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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gay

Vulnerable Leadership

I have just been reading a chapter on vulnerability as a leader from Brene Brown’s new book “Daring Leadership”.

I must admit as I read it I had a number of thoughts around how leaders display vulnerability. I can imagine how damaging it could be if used with the wrong intent.

“Hi, All, I want to show I’m feeling vulnerable as we move into restructuring the staff numbers. I feel bad that some of you won’t be here next year.”


“Hi, I just read this piece where being vulnerable as a leader is meant to build trust. So just thought I’d let you know I really don’t know what the vision for the school is or should be. I’m out of my depth here.”

Neither of these examples would encourage staff to trust the leader more, in fact, I believe it would seriously weaken a Principal’s leadership. In my first example the leader is a bit like the eggs and bacon analogy. The chicken gives eggs to be eaten so has some skin in the game(The Principal). The pig on the other hand is all in(The teacher). The second example is that admitting your incompetent is probably not going to garner much trust but will confirm what they have suspected all along! It is important not to mistake vulnerability and sympathy.

So how does vulnerability look when done well? Let's rethink my first example. This is how a vulnerable leader would pose the question around staffing.

“We have some big issues to discuss around staffing today and there will potentially be some conflict and hard decisions made. So my questions for you as a staff are what does my support look like for you? What questions would you like me to answer?”

In my second example around vision a leader showing vulnerability might say.

"There are so many aspects I'm trying to capture in our vision statement. I really need you to question me deeply so we get this right. As a staff it is important we feel comfortable expressing our ideas and opinions. I want you to delve deeply and question my thoughts honestly."

The leader in the second set of examples is tackling the issues head on but is also creating a safe environment for teachers to question them without fear. Their vulnerability is authentic, they will endeavour to answer the hard questions. Brene Brown calls this the Rumble.

Google’s five year study on what made teams successful showed that when a team feels safe to take risks there is much higher chance of that team being highly successful.

As you move into 2019 have you asked your team what success will look like? Have you showed vulnerability and asked them what their expectations are of you?

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