Real Leaders Are Vulnerable

Who do you think are the best leaders? Those with superhuman powers or those with a bit of human touch? I guess it depends. In the time of crisis you want a superhero at your side so you feel safe and you trust things will get better. However, we don’t live in a constant crisis and most of the time you want a leader who is more approachable, who is more human, who is more like you.


In my life I worked with couple of guys who would fit this category. They had some sort of superhuman ability, being an incredibly good linguists or software developers. They shared two common traits. First one was an incredible ability to focus on the stuff they were good at. This ability magnified their already great talent to the new heights. Second aspect of their personalities was rather low patience with people who were not able to keep up with them. Unfortunately, these traits made it for them also a bit too difficult to lead. In fact, they were not even interested in becoming leaders that people would follow at all. They saw their professional mission as being the experts in their given fields and cared little of what the others around them think. You want to have people like this around you in the times of emergencies but if you want to lead others you cannot really have an attitude like this yourself. If you are trying to be the best at everything, chances are that your team will feel that there is very little they can bring to the table, and eventually it will demotivate them. You need to make sure you give others opportunity to contribute and they need to feel valued and be proud on bringing something no one else brings.


Show emotions. Pretty much any emotion is better than no emotion at all but obviously some are more preferable. Which ones? The positive ones. Being able to open up and visibly enjoy the successes of your team. Being able to laugh with your team or cry when life brings a tragedy in your way makes you human. Human being like to be around other human beings. If you are a robot who never shows any emotions you won’t be able to empathize with your team members and you won’t be able to create a good rapport.

People also tend to look with distrust at someone who is unreadable. If you never ever show any emotions you become a puzzle for your team. They will never be sure what you like or don’t like and whether something meets with your approval or not. Yes, you can try to vocalize every thought of yours but it would still look insincere if not accompanied by the appropriate show of emotions. As a leader you need to be consistent, predictable and authentic. Lack of emotions will bring the authenticity into question.


As a leader you need to be approachable and the best way to build approachability is to be vulnerable like everyone else. People won’t come to a superhero with their small unimportant human problems. It is different if they know that you are like them, that you deal with the same problems in your life as they do. To show a bit of vulnerability will make you easier to talk to and will build a stronger emotional bond with your team. Obviously, I’m not someone who believes you need to keep your team at arm’s length. I strongly believe that good performing teams need to have leaders who are part of the team, who experience the same ups and downs and who should have emotional stake in the success of the team. You just need to make sure that your relationship with your team doesn’t cloud your judgment in situations when unpopular decisions needs to be made. In fact, being emotionally close to the team will help you to give bad news and make unpopular decisions that will be accepted by the team more easily. Or to put it another way, it will make it more difficult for you to make the decision but much easier for the team to accept it.


The one vulnerability you cannot show is doubt. You are here to lead others, to marshal your forces, to give them a vision and goal to follow. No one will enthusiastically follow you if you keep saying things like “I’m not sure”, “I will try”, “I guess”. Be sure! Don’t try but do! Don’t guess but know! You need to project confidence that you know what you are doing. It is fine to show vulnerability as a person but you need to maintain a posture of a strong leader who knows what he or she is doing. And never mind that you are not sure. No one is! One thing I learned as I climbed the corporate ladder is the higher you get the more uncertainty you have to deal with. The ability to deal with ambiguity, being able to make tough decisions and still make others to follow you is called leadership.

Twitter type summary: “No one will eagerly follow a robot. If you lead others you need to show your human face and heartfelt convictions.”

Do you show vulnerability or do you rather hide it? Do you prefer to be seen as strong and infallible to lead your troops or do you prefer to show a human side of yourself?

Photo: Shutterstock, Inc.

Categories: Leadership

Tags: , ,

1 reply


  1. Holiday Special – The Best Posts Of 2014 | The Geeky Leader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: