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The Power of Vulnerability in Leadership

The Power of Vulnerability in Leadership

I remember just before COVID we had launched our Outstanding Leadership Awards. What a time to launch a global event. We had received 100’s of nominations and everything was locked in to deliver an outstanding events platform. The reschedules, changes in venue, stress, frustrations from finalists and more lead to me having a mini breakdown. It was mini and I felt vulnerable. I needed to say to my team I need to take a self-care day as it was too much. Vulnerability reflects leadership. It showed courage and my team knows the power of vulnerability.

As a leader, it can be tempting to present an image of invincibility and strength to those around you. After all, you are responsible for guiding and motivating others, and you want them to feel confident that you can handle any challenge that comes your way.

However, research has shown that embracing vulnerability can be a powerful tool for leaders, increasing trust, empathy, and authenticity in their relationships with team members and colleagues.

The Benefits of Vulnerability in Leadership

Vulnerability is often associated with weakness or failure, but, it takes great courage to be vulnerable and expose oneself to the risk of rejection or judgment. When leaders embrace vulnerability, they open themselves up to a range of benefits that can enhance their leadership effectiveness:

Increased trust: When leaders are willing to be vulnerable and share their own struggles, failures, and fears, it can create a sense of trust and authenticity that is difficult to achieve through other means. Team members are more likely to feel comfortable sharing their own vulnerabilities and concerns, leading to a more open and collaborative team dynamic.

Greater empathy: Vulnerability can also increase a leader’s capacity for empathy, as they are more attuned to the emotions and experiences of others. This can be particularly helpful in situations where team members are struggling with personal or professional challenges, allowing leaders to provide support and guidance that is more meaningful and effective.

Enhanced authenticity: In a world where people are bombarded with curated images and polished social media profiles, authenticity can be a rare and valuable commodity. When leaders are willing to be vulnerable and share their true selves with others, it can create a deeper level of connection and trust that is difficult to replicate through other means.

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Examples of Leaders Who Embrace Vulnerability

While vulnerability may not be the first trait that comes to mind when you think of successful leaders, there are many examples of leaders who have incorporated vulnerability into their leadership style with great success. Here are a few examples:

Brene Brown: Perhaps the most well-known advocate for vulnerability in leadership, Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and author of several bestselling books on vulnerability and courage. In her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brown argues that vulnerability is not a weakness, but a sign of strength and courage that can enhance our relationships and personal growth.

Satya Nadella: As CEO of Microsoft, Nadella has made vulnerability a cornerstone of his leadership philosophy. In his book “Hit Refresh,” he describes how he learned to embrace vulnerability after his son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, recognizing that vulnerability and empathy were critical components of effective leadership. He wrote in a memo to his entire team worldwide about his feelings a few years back. He said to them, and I’m going to quote from this, “we are in uncharted territory. There have been times over the past weeks where it is felt overwhelming and all-encompassing for me.” How refreshing for a leader to speak to their own feelings.

I write about Satya in my latest book First Comes Courage as he also embraces not only vulnerability but growth mindset.

“Empathy ground me and centers me.” — Satya Nadella

Ed Catmull: As co-founder and former president of Pixar Animation Studios, Catmull has emphasised the importance of vulnerability and open communication in building a successful creative team. In his book “Creativity, Inc.,” he describes how he and his colleagues created a culture of trust and openness, where team members were encouraged to share their ideas and concerns without fear of judgement or reprisal.

Tips for Cultivating Vulnerability in Leadership

If you are interested in incorporating vulnerability into your leadership style, here are some practical tips to get started:

  1. Share your own struggles and failures: By being open about your own challenges and setbacks, you can create a sense of empathy and connection with team members who may be facing similar struggles. This can also help to normalise failure and reduce the stigma around mistakes and setbacks.
  2. Ask for feedback and input: By soliciting feedback and input from team members, you can create a more collaborative and inclusive team dynamic. This can also help you to identify areas where you may need to improve or grow, demonstrating your own vulnerability and willingness to learn.
  3. Be present and attentive: One of the key aspects of vulnerability is being fully present and attentive to others, listening actively and responding with empathy and understanding. Make an effort to be fully engaged in conversations and meetings and demonstrate that you value the opinions and perspectives of others.
  4. Practice self-compassion: Vulnerability can be challenging, and it’s important to practice self-compassion and self-care as you navigate the ups and downs of leadership. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and be imperfect, recognizing that vulnerability is a process and a journey.

To sum it all up, embracing vulnerability can be a powerful tool for leaders, enhancing trust, empathy, and authenticity in their relationships with team members and colleagues. By sharing their own struggles and failures, soliciting feedback and input, being present and attentive, and practising self-compassion, leaders can cultivate vulnerability in their leadership style and create a more open and collaborative team dynamic.

How We Can Help 

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Study at your own pace, in your own place. 

The Outstanding Women Leaders program is a personal and professional high-impact development journey developed by Sonia McDonald who has more than 25 years experience in Leadership and Human Resources. The Virtual Program offers you the flexibility you need to grow and develop as a leader, at a pace that fits with the demands of your life.

To support your journey, we combine expert online coaching plus networking with a community of like-minded women. The program includes 10 modules with a comprehensive toolkit, video presentations and masterclasses and visual play sheets for each chapter.

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Discover what drives and motivates you and leverage your strengths to improve personal and team performance and impact.

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We implement strategies and workshops to design and implement vision, values, mission, and new leadership behaviours to create and nurture the organisational culture you need.


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These tools are incredibly effective for performance management and improvement by gaining a well-rounded view of the attitudes, behaviour and performance in your organisation.

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Looking to jump-start your leadership development?

LeadershipHQ’s Online Leadership Program is an online professional development program for emerging, first-time and frontline leaders, and professionals wanting to take their seat at the leadership table.

The program can be completed on its own or in conjunction with our facilitated programs and coaching. Work through the program at your own pace, in your own place. 

Making the transition from team member to team leader is both exciting and daunting. Our programs give executives, future, first time and frontline leaders the knowledge, skills and practical tools they need to thrive. The focus is on personal growth, communicating with impact and motivating people to achieve.

By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And Outstanding Leadership Awards, Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO, Mum And Award Winning Author.

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Sonia is passionate about her voice. When Sonia speaks, everyone in the room feels like she is having a conversation with them as her audience will feel as if they are the only one in the room. She speaks from the heart. She is brave. She wants everyone to be brave. She is an impactful and motivational leadership expert and speaker that creates a life-changing experience. People call Sonia sassy, inspirational, real and a speaker who leaves a lasting impression. Her high-energy, authenticity and humour combined with actionable and practical advice, empowers her audience and provides them with great drive and confidence to take courageous actions and inspire great leadership in all aspects of their lives.

She is also the founder of LeadershipHQ and is a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.

Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.

As a full-time single parent, Sonia has a passion for women in business and teenage mental health. Sonia travels and speaks across Australia and Globe, and she is on a mission to building a world of great leaders and leadership.

We are a leadership development and performance organisation. We encourage leaders to realise their full potential, discover their calling, and make a real difference in the world. With us, you’ll find a truly invested team that offers genuine care and support while telling it like it is. We are deeply committed to the success of our clients. You won’t have to deal with the egos of large consulting firms – your success and progression are everything to us. In our work, everyone feels safe and inspired.

About LeadershipHQ

Outstanding Leadership Begins With You (With Our Help)

We focus on leadership development and encourage leaders to reach their full potential, find their calling and make a positive difference in the world.We genuinely invest in your learning, provide authenticity and tell it like it is. We are deeply committed to our client’s success.

We don’t have the egos of large consulting firms, and your success and significance to us are everything. Everyone feels safe and inspired at work.

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