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What Does Vulnerability Have to do With Leadership?

woman thinking alone and displaying vulnerability

“If you don't understand vulnerability, you cannot manage and lead people. If you're not showing up vulnerably as a leader, you can't expect anyone to follow you — period.”
- Dr. Brené Brown 

At some point in their lives, many people are taught that leaders must be stoic, impenetrable to weakness, and devoid of emotion. Yet, if you’ve ever worked for one of these “automobosses,” you’ve likely felt as if you can’t possibly live up to their expectations, and that human emotions were something you needed to check at the door.

At some point, you’ve probably realized that those are not actually the qualities great leaders possess.  

If you’ve been the distant and cold boss, you may have a difficult time motivating your team to be productive. When there’s a challenge in the office, you may be the last person to hear about it. Unfortunately, you have chosen to fail yourself.

This type of “untouchable” leadership, where a boss or manager is unwilling to show (or accept) vulnerability in the workplace, will never end well. In order to have a functioning and thriving business, leaders not only need to admit to their humanity — they get to embrace it!

Embrace your vulnerability and become an even greater leader with our virtual leadership training →

Great Leaders Make Connections 

Great leaders approach their teams as valuable assets to be nurtured and supported for the good of everyone; employees, customers and community. Those with outdated leadership styles treat their employees like dispensable objects to be used and discarded.

It’s no surprise that the former will create more of a connection in the workplace, something that is missing from many companies. 

When employees feel an emotional connection with their work and their supervisors, they are more likely to feel satisfied and less likely to look elsewhere for a new job. 

By respecting and supporting their employees, a great leader will see more productivity and better results. This emotional connection is a hallmark of vulnerability and, ultimately, makes for a better business. 

Remember: Givers gain! 

What Is Vulnerability? 

“The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”
- Dr. Brené Brown

While vulnerability has historically been defined as weakness, Dr. Brené Brown, researcher, social worker, and expert on vulnerability, has extensively studied the power of vulnerability within our social connections – including the workplace. She has found that vulnerability is essential for a leader. It is the willingness to be open, honest, and to be present in the moment. Being vulnerable means making hard decisions for the organization and leading from the heart with compassion. 

Benefits of Leadership Vulnerability

  • Creates trust
  • Improves work performance
  • Increases productivity
  • Enhances morale
  • Decreases tension and stress
  • Creates a space for others to be vulnerable
  • Inspires innovation
  • Improves job satisfaction and employee engagement
  • Decreases turnover

Behaviors of Successfully Vulnerable Leaders 

If you have never worked for a vulnerable leader or undergone leadership training, it may be difficult to pinpoint the specific behaviors that vulnerable leaders exhibit. Thankfully, there are a handful of universal behaviors that can help guide your leadership decisions moving forward. 


A good leader has the ability to look inside themselves to understand their feelings and their driving mindsets. Are they allowing fear to control them? Perhaps ego is at the helm. When a person takes the time to understand their drivers, rather than being unconsciously controlled, they can make better decisions. Plus, they are a lot more pleasant and fun  to work with.   

Willing to forgive 

Everyone makes mistakes at some point in their career. A good leader forgives these slip-ups, provides the necessary feedback for improvement (delivered with kindness), and encourages the employee to grow and succeed.

Honest and transparent 

We are living and working in uncertain times. It’s easy for leaders to assure their employees that everything is going to be fine and that business will continue as usual. However, if it’s easy, it doesn’t mean that it’s honest. Yes, it’s difficult to tell your employees that raises may be suspended, layoffs may occur, or that the future of your business is unclear. However, being honest and transparent will create more trust and loyalty.


Our personal lives aren’t put on hold the moment we step through the office door. A sick child, an elderly parent, an unexpected financial burden … they all hitch a ride in our psyche as we head to work. A compassionate leader understands that their employees have emotions. They give them the space to deal with those emotions, and check-in to see how they are doing.  

Not afraid to request or receive help 

No one can succeed without help and support from others. A vulnerable leader understands that in order to take the organization where they want to go, they must be comfortable relying on those they’ve entrusted, and they must be comfortable asking for support and assistance.

Expresses their fears 

Feeling fear is a normal part of the human experience. When we share it with others, we benefit threefold. First, by admitting it, we are often able to release it. Second, it makes us human, and third, it allows our teams to express their fears and have an open, honest conversation. Especially during these difficult times, talking about what frightens us is essential to surviving it.

Takes responsibility for mistakes 

If you’ve ever worked for a boss who made “passing the buck” an Olympic sport, you’ll understand why taking responsibility is so important. When you take responsibility for mistakes (and apologize for them), others will find it easier to trust you and will want to follow your lead.  

Leads by example 

The old adage of “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no longer acceptable. If you want your team to exhibit certain behaviors, you must exhibit them first. If you want others to take specific actions, you must take those actions first. What we give we get back. There’s nothing more inspiring to a team than watching their leader roll up his or her sleeves and dive into a project alongside them.

Become a More Vulnerable Leader and Improve Your Team's Performance 

Not everyone has been raised to understand the importance of vulnerability, to know that it is acceptable, or to know how to embrace it for themselves. That’s why leadership training is so important. Leadership courses from Rapport help our students face (and admit) their fears to become more compassionate, inspiring leaders who provide the space and encouragement for their employees to flourish. 

Check out our class calendar and register to become a more vulnerable and effective leader. We’re currently offering online and in-person courses. Remember, the more you do for others, the more you’ll receive for yourself. Givers gain!