Leading Through Vulnerability

Many people have the misguided assumption that leaders never show vulnerability. I think they get this because the prevailing wisdom says that one of the things people look for in leaders is strength, and they assume that vulnerability and strength are opposites.

Vulnerability and strength are not opposites. At least not when it comes to leadership.

When you look at truly great leaders, you find examples of them exhibiting immense weakness and vulnerability.

In a blog post titled Permission to Fail by Michelle Wetzler, Chief Data Scientists at Keen, shares a story of a company-wide memo she sent out.

“I’ll admit it’s a little bit awkward for me to write all of this out. It’s possible that I care about Keen more than anyone and here I am saying it’s OK if it busts. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a little bit terrifying to think about. But it’s also a huge relief, a weight off my shoulders. It would be okay. When failure is no longer scary, my work is no longer driven by fear.”

How did people at Keen respond to Michelle’s email? No one walked away. Here are some of the response she got:

  • “THANK YOU”.
  • “This was so uplifting”.
  • “Bad FUCKING ass”
  • “This is what I signed up for”
  • “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with you”

The truth is that exhibiting vulnerability can provide a great opportunity for others to connect with you as a leader. It reminds them that you’re just like them.

And I’m not talking about faking vulnerability for the purpose of getting people to do what you want. I’m talking about those deep down real scaries that we all have rattling around but no one likes to talk about.

So if you’re a leader, don’t think that you have to just be strong all of the time. Think about the fact that sometimes the best thing you can give people is vulnerability, weakness, and honesty.