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October 01, 2017 Sunday 11:28:27 AM IST

In Vulnerability Lies the Strength!


We all know leaders who are filled with the kind of courage that takes great pains to conceal any clue of misgiving. Irrespective of what happens, they “knew it all along.” At the very heart of their strategy is the stern belief that displaying even the slightest hint of vulnerability would cause their teams to see them as “weak.” They couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, vulnerability is strength. Every leader is vulnerable and great leaders have the self-awareness to recognize this fact. They also realize that displaying their vulnerability is a sign of courage and strength.


The majority seem to think that being vulnerable is a bad thing. It implies that you’re weak or powerless. In fact, when someone is willing to admit his or her vulnerability, it exhibits a level of trust and respect with the person or people you’re opening up to. Great leaders acknowledge the importance of bringing vulnerability to work because it is the cornerstone for open and non-judgmental communication. Vulnerability fuels the strongest relationships, and eventually, helps bring even more success to one’s organization.


A leader who displays vulnerability is someone who stops feeling forced to be the first one to answer a question or the only one with new ideas. Becoming vulnerable requires a paradigm shift where you begin to see the aspirations of the business through the eyes of the individuals you lead. This motivates them to become more involved in and become the drivers of the conversation. When you show vulnerability, your team members feel more connected, invested, appreciated, and vital to the organization. There are four ways in which leaders can use vulnerability to their advantage.




Leadership experts agree that it is crucial for leaders to own their missteps swiftly and without passing the blame. The boldest act of a leader is to be publicly vulnerable. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook apologized publicly. He acknowledged the fact that Facebook’s present content regulation tactics are not sophisticated enough for the existing political climate. In particular, he pointed out errors Facebook made in removing videos capturing police violence that were significant to the Black Lives Matter movement and in removing the iconic picture “The Terror of War.” He admitted that these mistakes in judgment stemmed from operational scaling issues, meaning the firm hasn’t been able to keep up with its own growth. An apology is very helpful in fixing damaged trust if leaders assume full responsibility for their actions. The number one thing is accepting that you are clearly at fault and acknowledging complete responsibility and without a hint of wavering. Zuckerberg did a remarkable job of holding the responsibility without looking for flattery. Through this act, he demonstrated humility, readiness to learn and an attitude of wisdom.




Vulnerability is the mixture of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Before resigning, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO pick, forwarded a note to his staff at Expedia, where he was CEO for more than a decade. In that letter, he admitted that he was really scared to move out of the firm. He had all reasons in the world to be scared. Uber is one of the most renowned start-up stories of all time and being at its helm can be anybody’s nightmare. Replacing battered founder Travis Kalanick to get Uber back on track is one tough and frightening task. What’s notable is not that Khosrowshahi is scared, but that he confesses his fear. “I have been with Expedia for so long that I am completely ignorant about what life is like outside this place,” he wrote in the email. “But the times of substantial learning for me have been when I’ve been through significant changes, or taken on new roles. You are literally pushed out of your comfort zone and you develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.” Khosrowshahi also admitted that the decision to leave Expedia was one of the toughest of his life. Such readiness to be vulnerable about one’s fears and mistakes is the sign of a great leader.




In 2007, Vineet Nayar was selected as the head of the Indian IT services giant HCL. With over 160,000 employees across the globe, he feared that they would see him as out of touch. So, he set up around 25 town hall meetings, each with some 4000 people. He didn’t say anything. A popular Bollywood number blared from the speakers and he started dancing. He wiggled, danced into the aisles, pulled people up from their chairs and danced with them. After a few minutes, the music ended and he went back onstage to make his remarks. Those words sounded very different coming from a sweaty man who had just proved in public that he couldn’t dance than they would have coming from the emperor at the podium. Two hours of focused and lively discussions followed. Showing vulnerability by acting different can endear a leader to followers.




Vulnerability actually builds a leader’s authenticity. The best leaders know that it makes them appear more human. For instance, after being selected as the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi’s first action was to jump on a plane. She set off to meet her main competitor for the job. She was determined to persuade him to stay with the organization. Her vulnerability became her strength, as she took courage to show she needed him. Her straightforward message was “Pepsi would be better with you on board.” Any normal person would have stayed away or even celebrated in the departure of a disappointed career competitor. Being vulnerable can re-enforce the authenticity of a leader.


Vulnerability is a scary thing for most of us. But knowing that vulnerability is a universal phenomenon, and owning one’s own vulnerability is a form of true courage that differentiate great leaders from others.

Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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