The power of vulnerability

This month focuses on the power of vulnerability and how to use it at work in a safe and authentic way. It builds on research by Brené Brown, that I’ve summarised to apply in a work context.


When you see the word ‘vulnerability’, what is the first thought that springs to mind? To you, does it mean weakness or strength?

Vulnerability is an emotion we all experience from time to time – and that’s OK and healthy.

Social workers have a mantra: “Lean into the discomfort of work”. Yet we naturally want to move away from discomfort; we avoid difficult conversations and conflict.

“We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.”
Eric Michael Leventhal

Meet Brené Brown

Please click this image to view TEDx talk: Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

Brené Brown researched vulnerability in great detail. Her 20-minute TEDx talk is heartwarming, entertaining and easy to watch while giving plenty of food for thought.  It’s also in the top 20 of the most popular TED talks, so worth watching for this fact alone!

“Through my research I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce.”
Brené Brown

Human beings are ‘wired’ for deeper connection with others, because it gives our lives fulfilment, purpose and meaning.

Brené identifies two types of people:

People who embrace vulnerability

  • Have a strong sense of love and belonging because they believe at a fundamental level that they are worthy of love and belonging
  • Have the courage to be imperfect
  • Have compassion to be kind to themselves and others
  • Are able to connect with people as a result of their authenticity
  • Don’t try to be a person others think they should be
  • Realise that vulnerability is necessary (while being neither comfortable nor excruciating)
  • Are willing to take risks at work and in relationships, knowing it might not work out
  • Stop trying to control and predict things

People who avoid vulnerability

  • Don’t feel worthy of love and belonging
  • Fear they will be seen in a way that’s unacceptable to other people
  • Are disconnected with other people
  • Avoid situations where they may feel vulnerable
  • Put up a protective ‘shell’ that makes them detached and hard to reach
  • May be struggling inside

Numbing your emotions

She says that people who do not believe they are worthy of love and belonging numb their negative emotions – but because you can’t numb emotions selectively, they numb the positive emotions too.

Her closing advice is to know that you are enough, and let yourself be seen including your vulnerabilities.

Working styles

AD International have identified five working styles that drive our behaviour, building on the model of Transactional Analysis:

  1. Hurry up
  2. Be perfect
  3. Please people
  4. Try hard
  5. Be strong

To discover your own working style, please ask me to send you the questionnaire.  All these styles have their own triggers that evoke a sense of vulnerability, so knowing your style will help you identify these. Once you have identified them you can then determine what you want to do about this.

Questions to consider

  • How can you model vulnerability?
  • What would be the benefits of sharing your vulnerable side?
  • In what situations would you NOT want to show vulnerability?
  • If you don’t (yet) embrace vulnerability, what could you do about that?
  • If you are the peer or line manager of someone who doesn’t embrace vulnerability, what can you do to make them feel safe so they relax?
  • What’s your working style?
  • Where do you struggle to show vulnerability?
  • Where are you most likely to feel uncomfortable?
  • What are the effects at work and home?
  • What risks could you take?
  • What are you going to do?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries,; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
CS Lewis

What you can do

As a leader, you role model from the top. Here are my six top tips:

  1. Show your emotions constructively – at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way
  2. Work without fear of failure, but take calculated risks
  3. Admit your mistakes without shame, but with empathy for those who may have been affected
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and let other people help you
  5. Use your emotional intelligence to determine when it’s NOT safe or wise to show vulnerability, e.g. with people you have experience of who are not trustworthy (see below)
  6. Use the power of story-telling to inspire people to follow you (see last month’s article Why use storytelling in business)

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Three main EI traits that resonate with these ideas about vulnerability:

  • Emotional control: Free and in charge of your emotions (neither over- nor under-controlled)
  • Trust: Carefully trusting (neither over- or under-trusting, utilising your experience of people and situations)
  • Interdependence: Like all good relationships there is a sense of interdependence (neither overly dependent or independent)

If you’d like to know your emotional intelligence, broken down into 16 scales, please email me as there is an EI tool I am certified to use. (Please note there would be a cost to use this tool.)

You might find it useful to see my articles about How to build trust, and Building emotionally intelligent teams.

Also, please revisit the “I’m OK, you’re OK’ diagram in my article about High performing teams.

If you found this information useful, please click the social media buttons below, to share a link to this article with your network, and let me know if you’d like more details about this topic.

Next month links closely to this, as we look at the Hero’s Journey.  This explores our journey through life and its cycles and helps prepare you to be brave and embrace this.