How vulnerability in the workplace can enhance your leadership skills

“Vulnerability” – it’s a trait that’s often seen as a weakness in a corporate environment. After all, the very dictionary definition of the word alludes to some form of exposure to an external threat. But are we looking at it the wrong way? Could the notion of vulnerability be, in actual fact, a key part of what makes an authentic leader? And, if so, how should workplace leaders embrace vulnerability in such a way that builds stronger, meaningful bonds with their teams?

What should ‘vulnerability’ at work look like?

For a leader, it is essential to remember that our vulnerability must be used in the ‘right’ way. As author and researcher Brené Brown points out, it’s about setting your own boundaries. It’s not about sharing all your emotions. Instead, it’s about leaders having the confidence to show things that are appropriate for the workplace; acting with empathy towards your teams.

And research shows that people are much more trusting of managers and leaders who display openness and vulnerability at work. It highlights the need to add this ability to that arsenal of skills often asked of leaders. But, in the same survey of more than 12,000 employees, it’s not the norm. Just 39% of respondents said their manager was “often or always” open at work.

How do leaders embrace vulnerability culture?

It’s one thing to talk the talk around vulnerability culture at work. But it’s another to walk the walk. More importantly, it can be a challenge to do so while still retaining the authenticity and relatability that vulnerability instils in a leader. As a leader or manager, you don’t need to feel the need to stand on a soapbox and shout it loud. But communication is an important factor.

To establish and embrace a vulnerability culture, leaders must have effective communications channels. If this a new step for your workplace, you need to lead and deliver that change in a way that works for everyone in your teams. From removing boundaries to driving behavioural change, a good leader must first set an example. And this will then help to build relationships.

Examples of vulnerability in today’s workplace

There can be many different ways in which leaders can show vulnerability in the workplace. It is perhaps needed more than ever before too; the challenges of Covid-19 bringing drastic and lasting change to how we work. Let’s take employee mental health, for example. One massive advance in the past three years is how mental health challenges are more widely recognised.

For a leader, it doesn’t take much to show empathy to an employee in that regard. And you’re able to demonstrate understanding for a colleague’s situation – without the need to overshare.

It’s true, also, that leaders have a responsibility to deliver. But you must show be a degree of realism too. Your team won’t always be firing on all cylinders. Things will go wrong where the buck will stop with you. Accepting fault where it’s due, owning up to your mistakes, and being aware of your team’s limitations are all important when it comes to embracing vulnerability.

The rewards of doing so? A team that buys into your authenticity as a leader. And, from that, comes tangible business benefits as employees feel more willing to go above and beyond.