Vulnerability & Leadership

Mark Sagor


One of the best things about social media is that it gives us daily access to the wonderful world of serendipity. Here I am scrolling through my Facebook feed of baby pictures, spam, political and social appeals, and miscellaneous artifacts of friends and family when I see a post from a friend linking to a Ted Talk by Dr. Brene Brown . When I first saw this video last year I was immediately convinced of its importance and resolved to absorb every bit and byte of its wisdom. And then…….I forgot all about it until my friend brought me back.

 Dr. Brown studied a group of people she calls the “wholehearted”, individuals who embrace their vulnerability. These people accept who they are, with all their imperfections, rather than trying to project a false image of who they think they should be. For the “wholehearted” vulnerability is the gateway to achieving authentic connections with others. Dr. Brown describes herself as having the typical researcher’s temperament i.e., she loves to control and predict. But she could neither control nor predict the personal impact this research would ultimately have on her. She ended up in therapy.

 She discovered that others are not as fortunate as the “wholehearted”. Their feelings of vulnerability lead to something else: shame and feelings of worthlessness. These feelings convince them that they are not worthy of connection and they seek to numb those vulnerable feelings. We live in a world awash in the various forms taken by this numbing: addiction, debt, obesity, overmedication. Futile attempts to selectively numb bad feelings not only fail but they block access to the feelings that make life worthwhile: joy, gratitude and happiness.

In business settings, this flight from feelings of vulnerability can lead to the toxic ritual of blaming. Insecurity brings out the desire to blame. If someone else is to blame then I can feel safer for a while, at least until the next round of blaming. Blaming is not an effective way to solve problems but that’s not its purpose. The purpose of blaming is to defensively discharge and deflect pain and discomfort. The “wholehearted”, or authentic leader, nurtures an environment that focuses more on problem-solving and less on assigning blame. There is open discussion and team members can concentrate on fixing problems, not on finding scapegoats.

Because they can accept – without shame –their imperfections and vulnerabilities, confident and authentic leaders do not need to project an image of invincibility and they deal openly and directly with problems. They put the obligation to solve problems ahead of the desire to look good by hiding or minimizing issues and they model this approach for their teams. These are the kind of leaders you would walk through fire for. By neutralizing the toxic affect of blaming they create a space for employees to experience the joy of being part of a productive team.

Typically we associate vulnerability with insecurity and weakness. Dr. Brown reminds us that low self-confidence comes not from our feelings of vulnerability, which are normal and universal, but from our failure to accept and embrace this part of the human experience.  Having the strength and courage to accept our own vulnerabilities, without shame or embarrassment, opens the door to self-confidence and to better relationships at work and at home.

You really should check out this Ted Talk and…….please…. let me know what you think