How (and why) to Embrace Vulnerability at Work

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Everyone has an opinion on the word 'vulnerability.' Some think it's a sign of weakness, others believe it's wearing your heart on your sleeve, and some even think they're incapable of feeling vulnerable altogether. However, showing vulnerability is anything but weak, and it's actually a sign of strength – especially at work.

That said, vulnerability is hardly a trait leaders are racing to embrace. Why? Well, because the thought of being exposed can be terrifying — regardless of one's rank in an organization. For business leaders, being vulnerable can feel like the opposite of leadership. They might believe leaders shouldn't ask for help or admit to mistakes. In that case, consider what you'd expect from an employee who was in over their head with projects or made a costly error. Or worse, was experiencing a degree of harassment or mistreatment at work. Wouldn't you want them to ask for help, come forward with the mishap or voice their struggles?

You're nodding your head yes, right? 

That is precisely why leadership should set the stage for vulnerability in the workplace. Any type of professional influence starts at the top - meaning, if you as a leader aren't leading by example, you shouldn't expect too much from your employees in return. Plus, vulnerability from leaders is shown to build deeper relationships, loyalty and enable people to be their whole selves at work.

Here's how to embrace vulnerability at work and cultivate a safer and more transparent corporate culture. 

Ask questions

As a business leader, it's easy to get tied up in all things 'work' and lose sight of what's going on around you. Remember to keep it casual from time to time, and engage your staff in conversation outside of work. For example, join in when you hear your team discussing weekend plans. Or, make it a point to ask some personal questions during your one-on-one meetings with employees. And if you notice an employee who seems particularly down or stressed, extend an olive branch and keep the link of communication open. And don't forget to do a little sharing of your own as genuine connections are formed when you are open about your experiences. Of course, these conversations should still maintain a good degree of professionalism, but it's important for employees to see the human side of leadership in order to establish trust and loyalty. 

Have the tough conversations

Part of embracing vulnerability at work is by having open and honest conversations, even when it’s uncomfortable. Especially right now, when conversations about racial inequality and discrimination are taking center stage. Topics like this can be scary to talk about, namely because you don't want to say the wrong thing. However, it's by having these tough conversations that we experience the most growth as both leaders and individuals. Not to mention you might learn something about your organizational culture and how the company is addressing concerns over cultural or societal issues. 

Let go of your ego 

Being in a leadership role comes with many expectations and responsibilities, including mounting pressures to perform and deliver results. On top of that, they're typically overseeing entire departments and/or teams. This type of responsibility can blur the lines between leadership and dictatorship. For example, if you find yourself always driving the conversation, pitching ideas and having the final say, take a step back to listen and observe. Remind yourself that professional success it is not just about you but the people around you – and a vulnerable leader is comfortable with not having all the answers and welcomes opinions from their people. When you show you’re not afraid to ask for help, it allows other people to open up with their best ideas. And, with the guard lowered on both sides, employees will begin to trust leadership with other concerns, such as personal experiences in the workplace. 

Being vulnerable takes courage. But it’s worth it.

The conversation about vulnerability in corporate culture is starting to change. And as a people leader, you know that cultivating a culture of openness and trust starts at the top. If you're ready to turn the tide on corporate culture for good, Speakfully is the tool that will give employees a voice and serve you real-time visibility into how they're feeling. Click here to see the platform and learn about our pilot program