Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

What is Vulnerable Leadership?

July 18, 2013 by Jeff James, Vice President & General Manager, Disney Institute

Image: Flickr User amalaker

For some leaders, their personalities, fears, and mistakes prevent them from making the type of connection that generates fierce trust and loyalty — it prevents them from becoming vulnerable leaders.

Lesson 1: Vulnerable leadership is courageous.

Perhaps the biggest myth about vulnerable leadership is that it is somehow a weakness. When Brene Brown addressed Inc’s Leadership Forum, she referred to research that asked thousands of people about their most vulnerable moments. Answers included: “Starting my business; the first date after my divorce; taking my company public; owning something I’ve done wrong at work.” What Brene realized was that these were not instances of vulnerability nearly as much as instances of courage.

Lesson 2: Vulnerable leadership asks for help.

Asking for help is often viewed as a sign of weakness though the best leaders are rarely a jack-of-all-trades type. Instead, these leaders understand how to maximize the potential of their teams, often to account for one (or several) of their own weaknesses. Empowering other members of your team in an authentic way is a sign of strength for leaders.

Lesson 3: Vulnerable leadership knows boundaries.

In the words of Brene Brown, “Live tweeting your bikini wax is not vulnerability.” Instead, Brene challenges each leader to ask themself if they are sharing to gain attention or to solve a problem. Only share stories with those who have earned the right to hear them.

What other traits do you believe vulnerable leaders exhibit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Posted in Leadership Excellence | Tagged Vulnerable Leadership, Leadership Training & Development, Leadership Styles, Effective Management, Jeff James | 2 Comments

2 Responses to What is Vulnerable Leadership?

  • Robert says:

    on July 18, 2013

    You didn't quite say it, but you clearly implied a deep connection between Lesson 1 and Lesson 2. It naturally follows that the courage of vulnerable leadership begins with the courage to admit weakness and to promote another's strength, to care more about the success of the team than the appearance of ubiquitous proficiency. But it's not enough to find that courage within ourselves. As an aggregate of leaders, individual courage simply can't of itself sustain widespread change. We must create an environment that understands and embraces that behavior in others. If I publicly and courageously acknowledge my limitations, by rationally and efficiently placing the talents of others in the best possible position, it must be immediately and materially obvious that my own leadership understands and values that behavior. If it is treated as weakness, or as the dodging of responsibility, we will never get the power of a fully enabled team, only the frustrated silence of a single unhappy employee. And maybe not even that.

  • Colby says:

    on July 22, 2013

    Brene's Ted Talk is worth listening to if you have not, but this post echos clearly what she has found. Vulnerability is something that as leaders we have tried for years not to show. She said that it is "the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I look for in me." Leaders struggle with the terminology and the philosophy. If more leaders would realize that not having all the answers is okay, and that the job of the leader is to get the workgroups to collaborate on solutions, then it would not be such a struggle. Real leaders do this anyway.

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