Leadership, Strength, and Vulnerability

If it’s just a job, being vulnerable can be an option. You’re trading work for money, you’re performing designated tasks toward defined ends, and perhaps you can hold the core of your soul back behind the fortress walls, where you won’t be open to attack and hurt.

No so easy when you view your work is a calling, a cause, a mission, a personal commitment. And when you believe that 360-degree humanity ought to be part of leading and working, then some degree of vulnerability is inevitable.

So – how much? Is vulnerability a good thing in leadership? Does it need to be counter-balanced?

This will be our topic of conversation during Tuesday’s #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET). I co-moderate this weekly event with my talented collaborator Lisa Petrilli, and here is her blog post on the subject. From the 30,000-foot level, here’s my on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand take:

  1. Effective leaders need to be human. People follow people, not robots, and being human means showing your imperfections. It means risks, mistakes, emotional engagement, and the readiness to expose enough of yourself that people trust and relate to you as a person. No vulnerability = dishonesty, and you might get some short-term results, but in the end, you’ll stand (and topple) alone. However…
  2. Certain types of leadership require far less personal vulnerability, and far more projection of strength and determination. My Marine son does not need an easily-wounded soul to be his leader into battle. He knows that his leaders are human, but when you are under fire on hostile ground, you need an icebreaker to press through the opposition, not a canoe. At times, leaders (yes, in business also) have to give vulnerability a back seat, to en-courage followers to bold and even risky action.

Think of vulnerability and courageous confidence as two water spigots, each with different temperatures. Effective leadership is not an either-or, it’s knowing that both will be needed, and wisely understanding what the needed mix is at the time. There will be occasions when one is mainly suppressed and the other projected, because those who follow need to see both. Many people want to be led, and they want to be led by someone who gives confident and bold direction. Vulnerability has its place, right beside courage. But projected weakness emboldens competitors and dispirits teammates who are looking for a rock to stand on, not sand.

A key element of effective leadership is earning respect. John Wayne may not have been a prime example on the big screen about exposing vulnerability. But you sure wanted him in the foxhole next to you when the rubber met the road!

Join us Tuesday night (8 pm ET) for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

5 Responses to Leadership, Strength, and Vulnerability

  1. Greg says:

    A timely subject (well, at least for me) based on what I have already experienced this week, and its only Tuesday morning!!

    I have experienced this myself as well as from my immediate supervisor. It really made me pause at length last night to try and sort things out. I am hopeful I can make it Tuesday.

  2. Liz Brenner says:

    Great post, Steve. I especially like the comment that “people follow people”.

  3. Bret Simmons says:

    Vulnerability. Wow, a new buzz word. Are we are already bored with transparency and authenticity? I was kind of thinking that those might make one vulnerable but I guess we need more. Wonder what else a leader will need to do to demonstrate humanity.

  4. Pingback: What Makes You Feel Vulnerable? « Natasha the Newlywed

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