Leaders Go First: Vulnerability 101

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last fifteen years is that leaders set the stage. They influence the culture and climate of an organization. Employees watch, listen, and take-in leader behaviors to inform their own behaviors and intentions in the workplace. It’s a lesson that’s somewhat intuitive and for the most part widely known among leaders.

Another important lesson I’ve learned is that knowing and practicing are not the same – especially when it comes to vulnerability. Before we continue, let’s get on the same page about vulnerability.

As a certified Daring Way facilitator, I subscribe to Brené Brown’s definition:

Vulnerability is uncertainty, emotional exposure, and risk.

Based on the definition it could be assumed that leadership requires vulnerability. After all to be human and interact with humans is vulnerable, but many leaders still struggle to practice vulnerability with their people.

When leaders fail to consciously and intentionally practice vulnerability, it sends a message that employees can’t be vulnerable either.

It may look a little something like this… We mask our feelings and expect everyone in the workplace to suck it up and power through. We judge and criticize – sometimes silently. We try to appear as if we have it all together – like we never struggle. We write-off fear, disappointment, and frustration as emotions that don’t belong in the workplace (even though they profoundly affect performance and productivity). We work really hard to manage perceptions and maintain a personal brand that fits with what’s acceptable, respected, and good. We crack jokes to avoid being seen. We cling tightly to achievements, outcomes, and contributions as self worth.

Sound familiar?

As leaders, we need to practice going first when it comes vulnerability. We set the stage. When we demonstrate vulnerability it creates space for people to be human. When people can be human, that’s when we achieve high levels of performance, engagement, and more!

As we approach the new year, here are ten examples of behaviors that we can actively and intentionally practice to demonstrate vulnerability:

  • Admit mistakes
  • Give feedback (preferably honest, helpful, and behaviorally-based)
  • Say “I don’t know”
  • Ask for help
  • Receive feedback (and let people know what you’re working on)
  • Set and maintain boundaries
  • Listen without solving or giving advice more often
  • Share failures (and what you learned as a result)
  • Practice new skills (and be willing to get it wrong and try again)
  • Let people know how much you care about them

As leaders, I believe one of our primary responsibilities is creating an environment where people can be their best and give their best. In order for this to happen we have to go first. We have to role-model the behaviors we want our employees to practice. We need vulnerability in the workplace because it’s the birthplace of everything we need to be successful – creativity, authenticity, innovation, and more!

Amber Barnes_HeadshotAmber Barnes is the founder of StartHuman – a company that partners with individuals and businesses to help them achieve high levels of engagement, performance, and contribution. Amber is passionate about re-humanizing the workplace. She helps clients navigate all the tough stuff associated with being human and working with humans – resulting in positive outcomes for them, their teams, and their companies as a whole.