What is “vulnerability” when it’s applied to leadership?
If we take the definition as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”, then any trepidation around vulnerability as a potential harm would seem to be justified. However, vulnerability in leadership is anything but weakness; it’s about being very clear with those around you as to what you think and expect, along with what you do and don’t know. It’s being transparent where you need support and help. Vulnerability is very much about the willingness to listen, to engage and to seek alternate ideas.
This suggests sensitivity to others, authenticity in all actions, and concern for people and purpose. It is openness about the unknown and the uncertain, and a readiness to explore options and ideas, often from a wide pool.
Vulnerability is about being transparent enough that those around you understand and experience the thought process you are working through to reach a conclusion or decision so this becomes a personal development journey for all.
Vulnerability in a leader is about being confident enough to know that you don’t need to know why something will or won’t succeed, or what the complications necessarily are; just that you know these it, without the scientific structures immediately on hand. It’s often intuition rather than absolute.
Vulnerability could be associated with synapse not science, blink not brilliant, and fluid not function.
It will often be disregarded by those who lack the true ethos of leadership as it is a leadership component that embraces inclusion and support; exploration and discovery; growth and mutual outcome. So the staunch and structured will shy away from exposition while the brave and inquisitive will revel in the strands of opportunity and discovery that unravel through this process.
Unlike a manager who needs to maintain control, structure and rigidity, a true leader isn’t concerned about challenge or attack. Leaders thrive in uncertainty and chaos, ambiguity and calamity, and use these episodes as platforms for reformation and future-focused stability. They also use it to grow and develop their people through collaboration and trust. So when you next think of your vulnerability as a source of harm, think instead about how you position it as a learning experience and a platform for ongoing success.