How To Be A Vulnerable Leader

Leadership Coaching
06/20/21 - Jennifer Maynard

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely been hearing a lot of conversation around vulnerability and why you need to be a vulnerable leader.  

So…what is vulnerability? 

Webster defines vulnerability as capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.  

Well no wonder we tend to avoid this idea of vulnerability like the plague. 

The good news is this is not the definition we are seeking. What we want to talk about today is what does it mean to be a vulnerable leader?

In a 60-minutes interview Brene Brown described vulnerability, “When you’re in uncertainty, when you feel at risk, when you feel exposed, don’t tap out. Stay brave, stay uncomfortable, stay in the cringing moment. Lean into the hard conversation and keep leading. Stay brave. Try to stay human, keep leaning.”

I love this definition, it provides great clarity to what it means to be vulnerable as a leader. 

Vulnerability in leadership is NOT:

  • Self disclosure
  • Sharing your secrets
  • Telling everyone all the personal details of your life
  • Exposing confidential information
  • Excessive emotions
  • Putting it all out there
  • Possible if you aren’t present
  • Possible if you aren’t humble
  • Faux-vulnerability

When done well vulnerability increases creatively, courage, inclusion and success for our teams.  Leaning in and having the hard conversation allows everyone to feel heard.  Allowing for failure and the joy of being wrong encourages creativity and courageous behavior with our teams. 

So the question becomes, how do you be vulnerable with your teams?

What if there is no tough conversation to lean into?

What if everyone is a bit closed off?

And what if we just don’t see each other enough?

The good news is, as the leader, you can create an opportunity. 

Increasing vulnerability:

  1. Ask questions that spark deep and thoughtful conversation
  2. Carve out space to learn and grow as a team


The process of asking deep and thoughtful questions is something we spend a lot of time coaching our leaders around.  A good question can completely change the dynamics of a relationship.  If you want to ask questions that will spark deep conversation, start showing up as a coach. 

Showing up as a coach looks like:
  • Stay silent, pause, more pause
  • Reflect on what was said
  • Summarize/paraphrase
  • Take notes
  • Ask good and thoughtful questions

What does it mean to ask good and thoughtful questions?

Here are a few examples:
  • Don’t ask:
  • Can I help you?
  • Instead ask:
  • Are there any roadblocks I can remove to help you succeed on your project?
  • Don’t ask:
  • Are you overwhelmed?
  • Instead ask:
  • Is there anything preventing you from completing your work?
  • Don’t ask:
  • Why did you choose to do X?
  • Instead ask:
  • What options did you consider before making your choice?

Let these deep and powerful questions start to drive a new level of transparency. 


Another simple way to start increasing transparency and vulnerability with your teams is to carve out space to learn and grow as a team. 

One easy way I suggest doing this is to use our leadership style assessment. I’ve carved out some steps below to get you started:

  1. Take the leadership style assessment
  2. Ask everyone on your team to take the assessment
  3. Review the breakdown of possible results so you know and understand the possible outcomes
  4. Carve out 60 minutes to discuss the results as a team
  5. In the meeting, get creative with how you may like the discussion to go, for example our CEO shared how we used the assessment internally

After you’ve completed the deep dive, keep this information top of mind. Help to make it part of ongoing discussions. 

For example, one of my blindspots is being TOO direct. Now that I’ve put it out there for the team (in a transparent and vulnerable way) it is a lot easier for both me or the team to draw attention to it. If I’m being too direct it’s now safe for them to call it out. “Jen, remember your blindspot of being too direct, it feels like it’s creeping in here, can we slow down a bit?” We now have a safe way to support each other, provide feedback, and keep the conversation transparent. 

Once you’ve completed this activity for your team, reach out to me personally, at I would be happy to provide you and your team some personalized follow-up resources based on how your conversation goes. Good luck, be transparent, be vulnerable and create a stronger team!

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