Leadership and Vulnerability

How are these two things connected?

I have long maintained that vulnerability is a key component of effective leadership. It’s right up there with self-awareness. I’m willing to bet that almost any leader whom you admire has, at some point, displayed his or her vulnerability. Not only that, it is that very display that makes him or her so admirable.

I was doing some research for a talk I’m giving later this month on performance appraisal systems (more on that later), and I came across this set of short videos featuring Brene Brown. I love her work. Perhaps you’ve seen her TED talks. She’s a social science researcher who specializes in vulnerability and shame. Cool, right?

In these brief clips, Brown talks about how her years of research have led her to the conclusion that uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure are the building blocks of vulnerability. She goes on to make the straightforward connection to leadership: leaders are in the business of dealing with uncertainty, and managing risk and exposure, emotional or otherwise. By definition, then, leaders are required to step up and into what makes them vulnerable.

I thought she put a rather hard edge on what we typically think of as a soft, squishy topic.