The importance of vulnerability among leaders
Updated: Jan 29
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of vulnerability among leaders.
Being vulnerable isn’t easy, it often takes practice and becomes a leadership strength that can be leveraged.
As a leader, revealing your vulnerable side gives others permission to let their guard down as well.
Vulnerability is also where trust is cultivated. It is in this space where meaningful conversations and connections take place.
It allows for authenticity.
It creates a safe space for people to openly share their mistakes and fears rather than hide from them. I have personally found this is where growth happens.
This is something that inevitably comes up in sessions with leaders I coach but I have been thinking more about it lately after interviews with three extraordinary individuals who each have courageously overcome tragedies and emerged as tremendous leaders.
I’ve shared their stories with you before:
Sheldon Kennedy, the former NHL hockey player known for his courage in speaking out the sexual abuse he suffered as a young man to become a leading advocate for respect in the workplace;
Patrick Gordon, a former combat soldier who overcame horrendous injuries and battled addictions to emerge as the force to combat childhood hunger in his hometown.
Emily Rodger, a high-performance athlete who twice battled back from horrific crashes with vehicles and today serves others as a leadership and personal development coach.
I am in awe of their perseverance in the face of adversity. I admire them not only for what they have overcome but for what they have become.
They are also outstanding examples of leaders who have shared their vulnerabilities in the deepest way possible. They have emerged healthier, stronger and with renewed purpose – and they have gone on to inspire others.
It can be very hard to learn how to let your guard down. But I’ve always argued that the rewards and the personal fulfillment that follows is richer.
I can’t help but think back to the early days of Vision Coaching – back when I was fresh from my leadership coaching studies and certification. Back when I was earnestly, and nervously, searching for clients.
I vividly remember one meeting with a potentially big corporate client: 10 executives in suits around a massive boardroom table, quizzing me on what this leadership coaching thing was anyway, and why they should hire me for it.
In mid-spiel, I recognized that I was playing the part of “Corporate Dave” – a persona that matched the room, yes, but that I had defaulted to as I battled my own nerves. But, thankfully, I recognized that it wasn’t engaging or convincing.
I made a split-second decision to move to what I call “Authentic Dave” – the real me, sharing with them the genuine zeal that I had for coaching. I welled up with tears as I shared the story of a woman I was coaching who suddenly and tragically lost her husband who insisted on continuing with coaching. The sessions helped her keep going, she shared with me.
I could see that the passion and emotion made some around the table uncomfortable, but I opted to stick with the real me. As I left that day, I was pretty sure I had blown my chance.
In the end, seven of those 10 executives called and asked about working with a coach.
I had made the right decision that day, though it wasn’t easy. It actually felt terrifying at the time.
It also taught me a valuable lesson: having the courage to let your guard down can not only be more personally rewarding but, as I mentioned earlier, it gives others permission to be vulnerable too.
I feel fortunate that, through coaching, I have the opportunity to work with leaders who are unleashing their courage to become more authentic and vulnerable – with themselves, with their families and with the people they lead.