Vulnerability is an inescapable trait. It exposes a person to his/her weakness to the world and leaves everything out there for people to judge. So should Vulnerability be considered a weakness or an asset in a person performing the role of a leader?

Tracing back to its origin, vulnerability is taken from the Latin word ‘vulnus’ which means being susceptible to attack or harm! Looking superficially, It can be a rather scary trait for a leader. Vulnerability makes a person human! It reveals the flaws of a person when he or she needs to set a perfect example of leadership.

When a leader makes a blunder with respect to a key decision at work, what would be the best course of action to be followed by him? Accept it was his fault and that he couldn’t gauge all the protocols beforehand, or should he hide the misjudgement. Should he portray that the decision wasn’t entirely his fault for things didn’t work out well? He could be misjudged and a wrongful perception about him might be perceived by the employees throughout his tenure. 

When a leader accepts a situation going wrong or that went wrong due to his / her decisions there is ownership of the process, responsibility being taken and less of the messy blame game that wouldn’t  really help anybody in the long run.

In case a leader hides his vulnerability and portrays himself to be firm and courageous all the time, there is a possibility of not thinking through a decision. When the leader makes a decision and it turns out to be wrong and he doesn’t have the courage to own it, then that decision and its denial hits other processes or departments invariably, causing damage to not just the people but the organization as a whole. Covering up one’s mistakes or not thinking through the workings of a company will simply bring a company down and it takes years to correct such mistakes. Such situations can be corrected and controlled by simply accepting and taking ownership early on itself. But it’s easier said than done. It needs a lot of courage and a ruthless form of no self-denial for a leader to take ownership of all his decisions irrespective of their outcome.

How does vulnerability help in making a great leader?

  1. Understanding that Vulnerability is an inescapable trait– A leader need not go into every situation with the mindset that he is vulnerable all the time, but be aware of the fact that it can hit you anytime during the course of the career when you least expect to. One has to be brave and courageous as it’s a trait that everyone embodies.
  2. More learning opportunity – When a leader is faced with a bad situation resulting from the outcome of his/her decision, instead of retracting back and blaming other factors, it gives him/her an opportunity as the leader to identify what is required of him/her to take control of the situation and take it as a learning opportunity. Leaders who do not embrace vulnerability stunt their growth as an individual. They do not develop as they fail to embrace these opportunities as learning experiences, eventually succumbing to stagnation. 
  3. Build trust amongst peers, team members and in the company– When a leader accepts making a mistake, it’s a huge opportunity to show everyone that people in power are in fact not perfect. Not just owning mistakes but being transparent about the competitive forces, challenges that the organization is going through would help the employees develop trust in their leader and help them realize that they all have to work hard as a team for the organization to succeed. Hence, possibly the most important emotional quotient of trust is forged between all levels of the company when the leader exudes honesty and diligence.
  4. Give Opportunities to others – When leaders realize that they can be vulnerable in some situations for they don’t have the expertise and skills in that field, to go ahead and follow Steve Jobs advice-“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” is probably the best course of action. This is a great advice for leaders to live by and there’s no better example than Apple Inc.
  5. Demonstrate empathy– When leaders are open about the challenges an organization is facing or an area of expertise they lack in, asking for help graciously from team members and departmental staff would only benefit them. This gives employees an opportunity to empathize with the leader, thus creating stronger bonds and encouraging team work. It also drives a culture of empathy throughout the organization rather than authority.
  6. Change work culture of an organization– Vulnerable leaders help promote growth and trust by showing that they are also just one of the employees, just with more experience and maybe more technical knowledge, leading to a stress free work culture where communication and empathy take the wheel. Such leaders are most connected with the people of their organization! This is one of the most crucial traits of a courageous, compassionate and discerning leader.

 But as all things do, there’s another side to vulnerability.

Most companies do not reveal their vulnerabilities openly such as the threats and challenges they face externally and internally, as sharing such details results in employees putting low faith and confidence in the company attributing to high attrition. Usually companies always reveal the encouraging and good news of the organization through their newsletters and communications as focussing on the positivities is much better since perceptions are easily formed immaturely.

Brené Brown conducted extensive research over a period of 6 years during her PhD. She revealed at one of her Ted Talks on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’  that when a person knows their worthiness and values themselves then such leaders tend not to dwell on shame and self-doubt for a long time after making a mistake due to their vulnerability, unlike a person who would hide it or dwell on shame and a sense of unworthiness after making that mistake. It doesn’t mean that you’re any less compassionate of a leader. It is invaluable for a person to realize that vulnerability needs to be embraced and not be subjected to denial for them to make a great leader!

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