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The Right Way To Be Vulnerable At Work

The traditional image of leadership has long been characterized by unflappable resilience, unwavering resolve, and seemingly unshakable confidence. But as the paradigms of leadership evolve, the role of vulnerability in the workplace is being re-examined and redefined.


I spoke with Jacob Morgan, best-selling author of 5 books including his most recent, Leading With Vulnerability, which is based on over 100 CEO interviews and a survey of 14,000 employees. 

Jacob explains the delicate balance between vulnerability and competence, the implications for leadership, and strategies for embracing vulnerability the right way. 


REDEFINING VULNERABILITY IN THE WORKPLACE


The term "vulnerability" often gets misunderstood or misrepresented in the corporate world. It's not about proclaiming your deepest insecurities or unnecessarily burdening your team with personal dilemmas. Instead, it's about the courage to expose your authentic self, accepting that it's okay to be human, to not have all the answers, to have real emotions, and to have the humility to grow.


VULNERABILITY + LEADERSHIP IS THE MAGIC EQUATION


Jacob cautions us that leaning into vulnerability without bringing some leadership to it can backfire, just as leading without vulnerability can do the same. Being too open about your shortcomings could undermine your credibility and sow seeds of doubt among your team members. The key lies in striking a balance between vulnerability and competence, between humility and confidence.


For example, using vulnerability as a springboard for improvement can create a profound impact. Whenever you’re acknowledging a mistake, admitting that you don’t know something, or lack a skill or experience, Jacob recommends always including how you are addressing the gap. We should acknowledge the learning process and outline steps for growth to effectively demonstrate vulnerability without sacrificing credibility. It fosters a sense of relatability and trust, paving the way for stronger, more authentic connections.


LOOK FOR VULNERABLE MOMENTS


During Jacob’s interviews with 100 CEOs, he explored what makes them feel most vulnerable at work and how it affects them physiologically. Many shared experiencing panic attacks, sweaty palms, racing hearts, queasiness, or trembling voices due to uncertainty and nerves. And it’s not just CEOs who feel vulnerability so acutely. These physical symptoms serve as alerts that we (or the person we’re speaking with) may be feeling vulnerable. 


In addition to the physical signs, certain activities often prompt vulnerability. For instance, asking for help can indicate vulnerability, but it depends on the depth of support. Getting help with accessing the wifi isn’t likely to spark a lot of emotions in the same way that asking someone to review a document and provide feedback will.  Admitting mistakes, showing genuine emotions (both positive and negative), receiving compliments graciously, discussing uncertainty, and giving or receiving praise are all moments that people could experience vulnerability. By paying attention to the physical signs and the context, Jacob notes that we can adjust our behavior to ensure we’ve got the balance of vulnerability and leadership.


In conclusion, vulnerability, when properly harnessed, can be a tremendously powerful tool for leaders. By showing vulnerability, you disarm defenses, create bonds, encourage open communication, and cultivate a culture of trust and growth. By adding in the leadership, you’re demonstrating competence, building trust, and inspiring others. So, dare to lead with vulnerability and watch as your team soars to new heights.


Listen to the entire episode 305 to learn more about leading with vulnerability.


Keep up with Jacob Morgan

- Follow Jacob on LinkedIn and Twitter

- Listen to his podcast here

- Grab a copy of his book here

- Visit his website for more information here


Guest Bonus: Free Sample of “Leading With Vulnerability”


Jacob Morgan is happy to offer a 23-page sample of his book, “Leading With Vulnerability. Based on over 100 CEO interviews and a survey of nearly 14,000 employees, Jacob shares candid stories and original research that shows how leaders can tap into vulnerability to transform themselves, their teams, and their organizations. 


To get this guest bonus and many other member benefits, become a member of The Modern Manager Podcast+ Community.


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The Modern Manager is a leadership podcast for rockstar managers who want to create a working environment where people thrive, and great work gets done.


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