Become a Vulnerable Leader

Keith, I got it!” replied Jerry, the director of recruiting for a national remodeling company. “I figured out my weakness in my leadership style and communication. My downfall is, I’m one of the guys.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” I inquired?

“If you’re one of the guys, it’s more difficult to draw that line in the sand and set the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior and what is not, both in and outside of the office,” he justified.

“When did you come to this realization?” I asked, curiously.

“When speaking with my boss. She told me, after observing me interact with my team, that I shouldn’t allow myself to be so open or vulnerable by making fun of myself or sharing some of my successes as well as my failures when I was an active recruiter. She said by doing this, there’s no separation between me, as the boss, and the people who report to me. She felt that if I continue to do this, they will not respect me or my opinion.”

“Well, if you allow your team to cross a boundary that you don’t enforce, I can understand her comment. But listening to you, that’s not the case. Besides, knowing you, that’s one of your greatest gifts and attributes: your ability to develop strong relationships, trust and loyalty amongst your team.”

“That’s exactly how I feel!” Jeremy exclaimed.

I continued. “Here’s a new concept I’ve developed called, Vulnerability Based Leadership™.”

How your boss is telling you to act will only succeed in developing more of that superficial trust — the type of trust that does not foster strong relationships nor promote deep trust amongst your team. It prevents people from coming to you with a problem simply because the atmosphere they feel is one that is just not safe to do so. This is the type of trust that’s built upon other people’s self-serving, political agenda.

Conversely, vulnerability based leadership promotes the type of trust every organization strives for. The type of vulnerability I’m suggesting encompasses what you do to cultivate a safe environment to earn trust, to build trust, to reinforce trust and to demonstrate trust within your company and amongst your team.

There are the more obvious ways to build trust, such as honoring your word, following through with your commitments, being consistent with your approach to managing, coaching and communicating, being respectful and supportive. While these are all healthy practices that build trust, they will only take you to a certain point. The only way to foster the culture that builds the type of trust that carries teams on to win the championship and develops the type of loyalty that’s unshakeable is through vulnerability. This requires every manager to demonstrate their vulnerability in front of their people. Ultimately, it requires the manager to be human.

I’m not suggesting you do anything that’s going to put you or someone else in harm’s way. Being vulnerable is more about embracing your humanity in order to connect with your people.

To develop a high-performance team, the deeper meaning of trust is illuminated by the ability of the manager and the team to be vulnerable, where the core intention is to encourage a deeper connection to one another. Vulnerability driven trust allows people to more comfortably and confidently share their true mistakes, failures, challenges, feelings and concerns that are often kept bottled up inside in fear of expressing them and being misinterpreted as a sign of weakness.

When an employee possesses the unshakeable belief in their manager that their intentions are sound, pure and good with no hidden agenda, it reduces and ultimately eliminates the need for people to feel guarded or protective around their manager or their team. This promotes a stronger feeling of trust, knowing that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them in any way and instead, will become a conduit for their own continued development.

While it may sound counterintuitive, it’s a leadership paradox; being vulnerable does not equate to weakness but to greater strength. When you embrace your humanity and express your vulnerabilities, you become a fearless and invincible leader.

Keith Rosen is president of Profit Builders, a sales and business coaching and training firm. A former Top 500 remodeler, Rosen is also a frequent speaker and author on the subject of selling, leadership and developing high-performance teams. To contact Keith or receive his newsletter, call (888) 262-2450, e-mail him at, or visit his site,