Vulnerability: Says Easy, Does Hard

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brian james

“What sound does a cow make?” That’s right, “moooo.” Even in our earliest memories we were expected and rewarded with having the right answers to questions. It continues, what is the answer to “5+3?”

Fast forward to our working selves and now it’s “how do we increase sales?” or “when is it time to add a new employee?” or “how do we ensure our business exit is successful?”

Sure, we need answers to questions we should know, but are all questions we face on a daily basis presented with such a clear answer? As leaders, we need to be able to create an effective work environment and build relationships with imperfect information. One way for leaders to do this is adopting the skill of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” Vulnerability is about showing our true selves. This is important because it enables leaders to be seen as “real” people, creates an environment that is transparent which creates trust, and builds coalition that gets work done better and faster. ADVISA knows that 2 of the 5 drivers of cultural competitive advantage include trust and shared purpose and effective leadership.

Vulnerability: The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

Three ways you can demonstrate vulnerability as a leader

Here are three suggestions:

1) “I don’t know”

How often do you hear this phrase? Probably not very often. Leading with vulnerability exposes us to the idea that gasp we don’t always have the best answer. When you don’t know, just say it.

2) Admit mistakes

Sometimes decisions and actions we make don’t always pan out. Admit it by talking straight and getting better. Everyone makes mistakes and people will know you made a mistake regardless of whether you own up to it.

3) Share thoughts and feelings

We spend a lot of time scenario planning, analyzing data, and making financial decisions. People show up to work as complete human beings- they don’t leave emotions in the car before they walk into the office.

Admittedly, these suggestions are easier said than done

A leader’s emotional intelligence will explain a lot about their willingness to implement these three “easy” tips.

For me, I have low emotional self-awareness and low emotional expression. I have a tough time sharing feelings with others because I’m not always confident and clear in what emotions I’m feeling in the first place. It seems safer for me to rely on clear thinking than risk expressing my feelings that expose me to judgement and ridicule.

But I know it’s important for me to appropriately express my feelings to be effective in my role, but also, to live a more fulfilling life.

Thankfully, help is readily available

There are assessments, coaches, and tools that help me navigate my emotional intelligence.

If any of these 3 vulnerability tips don’t resonate or don’t seem like something you’d be willing to do, consider collecting and acting on people data—another driver of cultural competitive advantage. Our natural behavioral hardwiring and emotional intelligence are examples of data that help us understand what might get in the way of displaying vulnerability.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Saying “I don’t know”, admitting mistakes, and sharing thoughts and feelings allow leaders to show more of our true selves which helps build trust and relationships. And what’s the worst that can happen?

It can’t be bad for us to show up as, well, us.


In this article, I’ve shared 3 of the 5 drivers to create and maintain a cultural competitive advantage within your organization. If you’re interested in learning more about all 5 drivers click here.