leading with vulnerability

Leading With Vulnerability: How Smart Managers Become Humane Teammates

When we imagine a leader, we typically think of a strong figure. Weakness is not among the traits we assign to them. They are always stoic, professional, and visibly unperturbed in the ideal scenario. However, in this imagery, we have failed to realize one thing – leaders are human too! And every human has their high and low points. At times, they will be weak and vulnerable. In contrast to this traditional conception of a leader, new-age managers and leaders bring vulnerability to the workplace. The leading with vulnerability is often understated.

Today, we’ll talk about one of the most important traits for leaders and managers: vulnerability. Why is vulnerability so critical? And how can you effectively express it to your team? Let’s take a look!

Leading with vulnerability: what does it mean?

There’s no one answer to this question. Every person experiences vulnerability in different ways and for various reasons. However, there are some general characteristics that vulnerability typically has: it is open, honest, and courageous.

When we think of vulnerability as a leadership trait, these qualities come into play. Openness means sharing your feelings and emotions with your team, positive or negative. Honesty means being authentic – telling them the truth as you see it without sugarcoating anything. And courage means taking risks even if they might feel uncomfortable or risky at first glance. All of these qualities are important for leaders because they help build trust. Once your team trusts you, they’re more likely to open up to you and share their ideas. And when they do that, they can see themselves in a new light – as capable creators instead of just followers.

Too often, leaders are afraid of being vulnerable. They believe that being open and vulnerable will put them at risk. However, this is not the case. In fact, vulnerability is one of the essential qualities of a leader. When we are vulnerable, we are more likely to be open to feedback and constructive criticism. We also let others see our faults and weaknesses. This makes us likable and trustworthy, two essential leadership qualities. As we open ourselves up to others, we learn and grow. Most importantly, we appear human. This is why vulnerability is so critical in leadership.

Examples of vulnerability in leadership

  • Admitting a mistake: A manager might make a mistake or oversight that affects the team’s work. Rather than trying to cover it up, the manager could address it openly with the team, acknowledge the mistake, and apologize for any inconvenience caused. This shows the team that the manager is human, makes mistakes, and is accountable for their actions.
  • Sharing personal challenges: Sometimes, a manager may be going through a tough time in their personal life that affects their work. For instance, they might have experienced a family crisis or health issue. Sharing their challenges with the team, while maintaining boundaries, can help the team understand the manager’s situation and show that they trust them enough to share such personal information.
  • Seeking feedback from the team: A manager may not have all the answers or solutions to a problem. Seeking feedback and ideas from the team can be a sign of vulnerability, as it shows the manager doesn’t have all the answers and values the input and expertise of the team.
  • Sharing failures: A manager can also share their past failures with the team, how they learned from them, and what they would do differently. This can help the team feel more comfortable taking risks and making mistakes, knowing that failure is an inevitable part of growth and development.

Why is vulnerability important in leadership?

Vulnerability is an essential component of leadership. It is vital because it allows us to see ourselves as exactly who we are, without the titles and the duties. It brings out the humane side of the professional. It allows us to connect with others, build trust, and open up. Both leaders must be vulnerable at times in a strong relationship – it’s a two-way street! When we’re vulnerable, we’re more likely to be open to others and share our thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, this creates a stronger leadership team.

However, managers and leaders are more likely than the rest to hesitate in being vulnerable. Primarily due to the misunderstanding of vulnerability as a weakness. Additionally, due to the stigma attached to it, people are not comfortable with accepting vulnerability.

Nothing is stopping us from being vulnerable – it simply takes some patience and courage on our part. As long as we are sincere in our desire to build trust with others, we’ll eventually be able to reveal our softer side. We do not have to let go of everything and expose ourselves to the world. Instead, it is about accepting harsh realities and using that as a moment to build again.

Benefits of being vulnerable as a leader:

Make deep connections with employees

When a manager displays vulnerability in front of their team, the employees can see them as real people who get affected just as they do. Then they can form deeper connections based on this shared understanding of loss and being courageous in accepting it. When employees feel a deep connection to their leaders, they are more likely to trust them and put all of their eggs in the leadership basket. This trust leads to higher productivity levels as team members are willing to go above and beyond for the leader they care about.

Additionally, when managers display vulnerability, it builds respect from their team, which can also lead to better communication. Employees feel that management is listening attentively instead of just asking questions while looking down at them or avoiding difficult conversations altogether because they fear being vulnerable themselves.

Reduce stress

Sharing our vulnerabilities with others can help to reduce stress because it provides a sense of connection. When we feel connected to other people, we are less likely to experience anxiety or fear in difficult situations. It is especially beneficial when the stressful situation is internal – such as worrying about an upcoming project that the team wants to get – since being able to share these thoughts and feelings with someone else reduces the burden considerably.

Additionally, by opening up more frequently throughout our lives, we develop stronger social bonds that make us generally happier and healthier individuals – both emotionally and physically. Moreover, when we share our concerns with another person, we generate a sense of security through their support.


Being vulnerable is about being self-aware; accepting the existence of vulnerability makes us self-aware a great deal. When we are fully aware of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we better understand how others see us. This allows us to make more informed decisions in our personal interactions and when it comes to managing teams or leading organizations.

In addition to improving how we understand those around us, self-awareness also gives leaders an advantage in negotiations as they can anticipate others’ concerns and come up with solutions before they even arise. Finally, leaders can inspire their team members by becoming more confident in themselves and what they stand for (both professionally and personally).

Leading with vulnerability at workplace

How to express vulnerability effectively?

Leadership is all about connection. Whether between leaders and their teams or leaders and other leaders, the key is to be open-minded and connect with others. This is best done by being vulnerable – allowing yourself to be seen, heard, and understood. Doing this builds trust and relationships, which are vital to successful leadership. However, managers must express vulnerabilities effectively to be received well. By understanding your character traits and how they relate to vulnerability, you can start to express yourself in a way that resonates with others. Here are a few tips that you can use to express vulnerability to your team members:

Admit self-doubt and struggles

The first step to accepting vulnerability is accepting that you, too, have moments of self-doubt and struggle. Once you reach a high position, people tend to see you as an ever-confident winning machine. Do not force that notion upon yourself. The journey with healthy vulnerability will begin with you accepting that, at times, your belief in yourself is a tad shaky. And at some moments, you need a couple more attempts to get the thing right. The notions of perfectionism focused upon everyone amidst the hustle of capitalist culture do not give us time, but take a second to take a deep breath – and hug your emotional humane side too.

Admit feeling overwhelmed

The detrimental impacts on work-life balance do not need more commentary. Running on short deadlines that always keep you on your toes is unhealthy and can get overwhelming too. Your employees share these concerns with you. If you admit that you are overwhelmed by the amount of work going on, it will allow them to let out a sigh of relief too! Performance pressure can often be excited by unhealthy notions that the role models and leaders uphold themselves. When they see you as vulnerable, they will emphasize your ideas, and, in turn, a sense of dedication will be further developed within the team.

Build a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset

Use your vulnerabilities to jump higher. In moments of weakness, you might think that it is the end. However, you can also use these moments to create significant momentum in the future. This happens when you do not see your vulnerabilities as limitations but as learning opportunities. Moving on from the past is hard, but it leads to a growth mindset that strengthens your resilience. Embrace the fact that you will make mistakes and learn from them!

Lead by example

If you want your team to be comfortable in being vulnerable, then you have to create a culture that embraces it. This means having open conversations about what is going on in our lives and not being afraid to show weakness. It’s okay for us as leaders to admit that we are struggling too! When we show courage in this way, it inspires our employees to do the same.

Moreover, it creates a trust-based environment in which they can feel safe to share their ideas and concerns. This is where true collaboration takes place! When we can lead with vulnerability, we open ourselves up to receive feedback and improve our skills. And most importantly, we create a resilient team in the face of stress and challenges, which is the hallmark of a great leader.


As we have noted, vulnerability can be immensely helpful for leaders and managers. However, as with everything, this comes with certain caveats too. Although teams encourage openness, leaders should remember not to disclose important and sensitive matters to their employees. While sharing, they should ensure that the information holds no potential to damage or sabotage the organization’s goals.

Furthermore, leaders should not burden employees with sad tales from their personal lives. A few anecdotes are fine to build a fine-tuned relationship. Too many are too much annoyance for the people who have to hear them every day. At the end of the day, it is a professional relationship, which makes respecting boundaries essential.

Leadership includes being vulnerable. This involves taking risks, showing your vulnerabilities to others, and allowing them to see your vulnerabilities to build trust and relationships. By being vulnerable, leaders and managers can build relationships of trust, which are essential for effective leadership. In addition, being vulnerable allows leaders and managers to identify and solve problems more effectively. So, if you want to learn more about leading effectively, explore more here!

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How to show vulnerability in a team?

Showing vulnerability as a team manager can include things like expressing your emotions, accpeting mistakes, and remaining humble.

Is being vulnerable as a leader a good thing?

Vulnerability is a good thing because it shows to the team members that their manager is a human too. They share similar weak and emotional moments as the rest, and that brings them closer.

How does vulnerability bring the best out of a leader?

Vulnerability brings out the humane side of a leader by enabling them to express their feelings and connect with teams. It brings out the positive emotions which can facilitate connections with team members.

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