Learning is an ongoing process

Attrans Management Solutions

Channeling Vulnerability
A Mastery Tool for Leading Through Uncertain Times

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown


Most leaders would argue that disclosing vulnerability is fraught with risk and will lead to weakness and misuse. Can vulnerability be a strength? It depends, says the logical answer. The choice is with the leader or group of leaders around how they approach and channelise vulnerability.

Coaches, philosophers and those invested in understanding and realizing human potential and power of teams believe that vulnerability can be a strength and an influencing tool. Here’s why:

  • Deep listening and embracing the vulnerable parts within us and of our colleagues creates resilient bonds that can withstand external pressures and volatile uncertainty
  •  Vulnerability connects us with our humanity. Any great accomplishment is a human endeavor and necessarily involves accepting our imperfections and eventually surpassing them
  •  Brings pragmatic realism into play and helps leadership teams deal effectively with uncertainty and ambiguity in creative and constructive ways 
  • When vulnerability is reframed as a potential strength it can lead to a shared learning experience for peer leaders and to synergistic collaborative behaviours
  • A culture where in asking for and offering help is OK and expected. This may lead to better decisions and greater agility
  • One can avoid false positives and ungrounded optimism. During high uncertainty periods, this becomes essential

Gareth Jones, in his landmark research, states that one of the elements that makes leaders inspirational to their followers is the selective display of their weaknesses — by exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity.


The greatest challenge in sharing and listening to vulnerability is the possibility of encountering difficult emotions, such as fear, anger, frustration, disgust, hurt, pain, helplessness, confusion, dismay, anxiety and restlessness. In our paradigm of high-action orientation, we often ‘unfriend’ these emotions.

Here are some examples of potential vulnerabilities:

  • Personal vulnerability: A disability or a personal constraint or crisis that may keep us from being fully present and productive. For example, learning disabilities or chronic conditions.
  • Identities that exclude us from the mainstream narrative: Individuals may not disclose these so that they ‘fit in’ and assimilate whereby reducing their authentic connection. For example, sexual orientation; or ethnicity that is not mainstream or ‘common’.
  • Skill or competence gap: The gap between those who are adept at working in the new economy versus those who are able to function best in the older paradigms or are slow to adopt technological disruptions and innovations.
  • Access to power and decision-making inner circles: The further one is from those who have visibility and access to decision making, the more vulnerable one feels. For instance, supply chain and service teams in a sales driven organisation or support functions in a consulting organisation.
  • Financial gaps: There are those whose livelihoods may be at risk or may have to face serious consequences if they are evaluated adversely during performance reviews.
  • Roles and functions: Those that necessarily need collaboration from other teams if tasks are to be completed.

How to Engage?

During the current COVID induced crisis, uncertainty over the future and lack of safety and high stress levels have made us all vulnerable.  

Engaging with vulnerability is a three-step process:

  1. Pause: Acknowledge vulnerability and its impact. Experience emotions that come with it.

  2. Allow for wisdom and shared learning to emerge: Vulnerability can be a very powerful bonding force creating high trust, transparency and shared purpose.
  3. Reframe and visualise: Reframe the context to see opportunities for growth and change. Mobilise support systems and ensure constructive actions that can enhance response capability and resilience.

Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature


David Whyte

To listen to Brene Brown’s meaningful and powerful talk on The Power of Vulnerability, click here.

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