The need for vulnerable leaders

I wrote about Vulnerable Leaders in my sixteenth newsletter. The original idea comes from the articles from Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Amy C. Edmondson.

Maybe you remember a post about Leadership Styles from some months ago. Maybe this kind of leadership would be a new one, suitable for the current situation, especially thinking about the world pandemic.

Vulnerable leaders against bullies or bravados

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic shared the following article, co-written with the fabulous Amy Edmondson, about the need for more vulnerable leaders against the bullies or bravados.

When there aren’t clear answers in these uncertain times, and people are probably experiencing fears, it is imperative to adopt the proper leadership that the situation requires.

It is more important than ever to show honesty, kindness, closeness, humility, adaptability, and humanity as a leader. A good leader uses emotions to achieve their goals. In the end, emotions and feelings impact the performance of individuals and groups.

In the article, they shared the following suggestions to cultivate a more vulnerable style of leadership:

  • Start by telling the truth. 
  • Ask for help.
  • Go outside your comfort zone.
  • When you make a mistake, admit it and apologize. 
  • Engage others in your journey of self-improvement.

Vulnerable vs Macho

Following the same topic, the demise of the macho leader, Tomas, and Amy published another article at FastCompany.

In this article, they use the example of the humane and empathetic type of leadership from Jacinda Ardern, using the example of her leading in the pandemic. People are clearly better off when their leaders are rational, honest, and empathetic.

One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I am empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.

They also identified the following traits or capabilities from both types of leaders:


  • seeks praise
  • craves fans and followers
  • overconfident
  • defensive
  • blames others when things go wrong
  • creates a culture of fear
  • self-deceived


  • embraces criticism
  • builds others’ capabilities
  • humble
  • curious
  • takes responsibility when things go wrong
  • creates psychological safety
  • self-aware

They recommend starting with a rational sense of humility about what lies ahead to adopt a more vulnerable style. This triggers a productive sense of curiosity that drives others’ interest and in learning more about what they know and need.

No leader can succeed over the long-term without that interest precisely because they will fail to leverage the capabilities of followers.

Shifting from invincibility to vulnerability

Herminia Ibarra, a top leadership expert, shared days ago this talk from the World Economic Forum. From a leadership point of view, there’s a need to shift from this feeling of invincibility to vulnerability.

This is a point also shared by Tomas and Amy. This year has proven that we are not invincible in many ways, from business, labor, to personal.

But what means to be a vulnerable leader? What are we looking for when we ask for vulnerability?

It is not about showing any weak leadership but showing weakness in building human connection and trustworthiness., and showing yourself and not the fake image of yourself, embracing uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

Also, it is usual to see people creating a social distance at work to show confidence, competence, and authority. When this happens, it is said that this is a demonstration of a lack of authenticity.

What means authenticity?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is ultimately very active and is sharing fascinating publications and debates. Regarding authenticity, he shared an article from Forbes, The Dark Side Of Authentic Leadership, about the ability to fake authenticity.

Just think about it for a minute. Have you recently met a leader who shows fake authenticity? Who is showing a different version of itself?

Following the article ideas, he also shared a poll asking which leader would you prefer?. A Confident & Authentic leader, or a Competent & Considerate one. As expected, the last one was the winner, with almost 84% of the votes.

This topic is also related to the vulnerable leadership that I shared in the last newsletter, shifting from an invincible and confident leader (Tomas call them Macho leaders) to a more vulnerable and honest one.

When asked about the traits, he offered the following description, which was not without criticism. Especially the authentic definition. He didn’t say that he thought about the fake sense of authenticity, this unfiltered and uninhibited version that some leaders want their people to perceive looking for admiration.

Being authentic is naturally showing oneself with confidence, sharing our virtues, defects, and rarities openly, establishing a relationship and connection based on mutual trust.

Someone authentic shows itself as it is, without falsehoods, without trying to be another person that it really is not. We tend to adapt our behavior based on situations, but the authenticity is constant.

As Tomas ends his article: It seems clear to me that between a leader who is authentic but incompetent, and one who has worked hard to against her nature to act in a competent way and have a beneficial impact on others, the choice should not be too hard.

Vulnerability as a sign of courage

Returning to the main attribute or trait, vulnerability, there’s a quote from Brené Brown that always come to my mind, and I use quite often:

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

I rescued this video from my Twitter timeline, from an interview with an Air Force Colonel, who shared that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of courage. And courage is not doing something because you’re fearless. Courage is doing something because you’re maybe afraid, and you do it anyway.“.

So, it is the time for vulnerable leaders

Or at least, this is the opinion of business thinkers and leadership experts. As Laszlo Bock shared recently, in a year with lockdowns, a year with several life restrictions, high unemployment, exposed racial injustices, the year of a deadly world pandemic, everyone is processing social and economic turmoil. Ignoring emotions is impossible.

As I said before, a good leader uses emotions to achieve their goals because it understands that emotions and feelings impact individuals’ and groups’ performance.

I agree that it is more important than ever to show honesty, kindness, closeness, humility, adaptability, and humanity.

But what about your opinion? How is your company facing these uncertain times? What kind of leadership style are you employing?

I hope you liked it. If so, please share it! Do not hesitate to add your comments. And, if you want to stay up to date, don’t miss my free newsletter.

As always, thanks for reading it.

Also published on Medium.

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Also published on Medium.

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