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  • Gloria Walski

Be an Inspirational Leader with These 10 Tips on Leading with Vulnerability

I don’t know about you, but the moment I see an email recall notification, the first thing I try to do is read the original email (if it’s still sitting in my inbox). I’m more inclined to open the email being recalled than the one with the subject line of Free Pizza.

Recalling emails - admitting you made a mistake.

Something about that recall notification unearths this burning desire in me to see what the error was. What did the sender accidentally say in an email that required a message recall? Maybe it was salacious gossip that inadvertently went to the entire organization! (It never is that exciting.)

I personally haven’t sent a lot of email recalls, but when I did, it was humbling. I didn’t recall emails for things like spelling or grammatical errors, you know, things that were easily forgiven or overlooked. No, I recalled for bigger errors, like sending it to the wrong recipient(s), or sending an email containing unclear instructions, contradicting information or incorrect details. Embarrassing stuff.

It happens to the best of us.

The act of recalling an email sent in error is an act of vulnerability.

Yet, have you considered, the very act of recalling an email message is an example of being vulnerable? It’s having the humility to say, “I made a mistake.” And if you’ve had to recall a message sent to 357 people (like I did once), it’s telling 357 people you’ve made a mistake.

Leading with Vulnerability

Vulnerability. It’s not just a fad or the latest trend in leadership, but it can seem that way. The word vulnerability is tossed around a lot. Leaders are encouraged to open up, be real, and be vulnerable. But what does it really mean to lead with vulnerability?

Leading with vulnerability means being authentically you.

Leading with vulnerability is not an excuse for bad leadership or poor behavior.
Leading with vulnerability is not an excuse for bad leadership or poor behavior.

When you’re authentically you, you are comfortable with who you are. This allows you to be up front about your shortcomings or open about personal struggles. You are unafraid of letting go and allowing someone to do something for you in a time of need. You admit reluctance to do the difficult things, but you still do them because you know it’s the right thing to do.

Vulnerability isn't complaining about how bad you have it, or whining about how your boss hates you.

Leading with vulnerability is NOT an excuse for bad leadership or poor behavior. And if leading like a tyrant is authentically you, maybe you have more to work on than learning how to be vulnerable with others.

Assess Your Comfort Level with Vulnerability

Perhaps leading with vulnerability is easy for you. If so, skip to the Dos and Don’ts section to make sure you’re not making any blunders in your vulnerability journey.

However, if being vulnerable makes you uncomfortable, take it one step at a time. As with anything new and different, it will take practice. There’s no need to jump in head first. This is one of those things where slowly immersing yourself a little at a time will make it easier for you.

Do you see yourself as others see you? How do others perceive you and your leadership skills? Be honest in this assessment. And if you’re unsure, you can always ask a trusted friend or colleague who will be candid with you.

In order to lead with vulnerability, you must be able to make an honest assessment of how others see you.

You may be afraid to be authentically you in front of others. Examine what scares you most about being vulnerable and work on facing those fears.

Something else to ask yourself is this: If you let people see the real you, what is the worst thing that could happen? And how realistic is it for that worst thing to happen? With that perspective, determine how you can face your fears and become comfortable with being vulnerable.

What is the Best Thing That Can Happen When You Lead with Vulnerability?

Leading with vulnerability positions you to be a more effective and inspirational leader.

Why? Because people see you as a human being like themselves. They see you as someone they can connect with. They find you to be more approachable and empathetic. And they feel like they can be themselves around you because you’re being authentically you around them.

Leading with vulnerability sets the example.

Leading with vulnerability sets the example. When you share the lessons learned from your struggles, or you face your fears about doing that difficult thing, you’re showing others how to do the same. By leading with vulnerability, you indicate to others they can be vulnerable too.

Vulnerability Dos and Don’ts

Here are a few suggestions on how to lead with vulnerability.

1. Do be transparent about your professional weaknesses. No one expects you to know everything. It takes self-awareness to recognize the vulnerabilities and strength to admit to them.

2. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Yes, people are impressed with accomplishments but they’ll never trust you again if they realize you’re exaggerating your capabilities.

10 Tips for Leading with Vulnerability

3. Do share about past mistakes. Explain what you’re doing to improve and what you learned from the mistakes. Share lessons learned to help others avoid the same mistakes you made. Your teammates will be forgiving and appreciate you for it. To be human is to make mistakes.

4. Don’t refuse to improve yourself and continue to repeat the same mistakes. An inability to grow from your vulnerabilities will cause you to become stagnant, and your leadership potential will be capped.

5. Do be open about your personal struggles as long as you’re comfortable doing so. Examples of personal struggles include managing the chaos in your house each morning before school and work; or it can be dealing with the emotional toll of caring for a parent with dementia.

Some people are naturally private about their struggles, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m not asking anyone to recount the five-year history of family drama. But to make yourself human and relatable, you have to be willing to share something real about yourself.

6. Don’t share everything with anyone and everyone. Brené Brown states in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “We need to honor our struggle by sharing it with someone who has earned the right to hear it.”

Be selective about who you’re sharing with and why you’re sharing. There’s a time and place to discuss difficulties you’ve encountered or any ongoing struggles you’re currently going through.

7. Do use personal stories to demonstrate important points. For example, you can tell about a rough patch you experienced and how much you appreciated it when a coworker reached out one weekend to check up on you. Use this to illustrate the idea of checking up on our work family.

8. Don’t tell more than you need to about your personal struggles. Share enough to make your point.

Telling too much can distract from your message. It’s like oversharing on a first date. It gets uncomfortable for the people you’re talking to, especially if they don’t know you well. And it could result in the opposite effect you’re trying to achieve.

Consider your reason for sharing. You can share to establish a connection or to help others learn from your mistakes. But if you’re sharing to get something off your chest, save it for your therapist.

Leading with vulnerability doesn't mean oversharing. Sharing too much information can result in the opposite effect you're trying to achieve.

9. Do remember that by being vulnerable first, you open the door to allow others be vulnerable and authentic in your presence. It’s leading by example.

10. Don’t be a one-upper. If someone opens up to you about something personal they’re struggling with, you can tell them you empathize or relate, but there’s no need to get into a contest about whose struggle is worse.

Leading with Vulnerability is Here to Stay

I’ve discussed why vulnerability is important, fears leaders have about being vulnerable and how leaders can lead with vulnerability.

Leading with vulnerability is here to stay. Leading with vulnerability is more than a passing trend. Leading with vulnerability can be as easy as recalling an email. Consider the Dos and Don’ts from above and give it a try.

Be you, be real, be vulnerable and you’ll be an inspirational leader for it.


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Apr 19
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

The article was a great read and provided a valuable perspective on vulnerability and how it relates to leadership.

Gloria Walski
Gloria Walski
a day ago
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Thank you! I'm glad you found value in this.


Hello, my name is Gloria. Welcome to my blog! I have over 20 years of experience as an Air Force officer and health care administrator. I've successfully held positions of leadership at many different levels and I am passionate about leadership development. I enjoy coaching people and helping them achieve their personal and professional goals.

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