One only has to look at the current thinking and work around vulnerability and leadership to appreciate the impact that being vulnerable has in becoming a more authentic, compassionate and effective leader.

A strong contributor to this field is researcher and author Brene Brown. In her book Dare to Lead she says, ‘vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It is having the courage to show up, fully engage and be seen when you can’t control the outcome.’

In our experience, one of the greatest challenges to becoming vulnerable is to shed the protective coatings or coping strategies that have shielded us from the experience of being out of control, feeling ashamed or not knowing what to do (amongst other reactions).

We also know that the more ‘emotionally healthy’ we are, the more these protective coatings fall away. Our ability to sit with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty increases. So does our ability to remain curious and open to possibilities, and to recognise the assumptions we are making and their impact on ourselves and others.

One of the most significant steps in increasing emotional health – and therefore becoming more vulnerable – is to recognise these protective coatings. We need to be able to understand the coping strategies we use and the impact they have. This means bringing what we do, our actions, from an unconscious to a conscious level. As we do this, we will find ourselves in a position to understand ‘why we do what we do’ and to make different choices in that moment.

Which of these coping strategies do you recognise in yourself when faced with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure?

  • I am going to step in and take control in this situation. No one can control or harm me.
  • I am simply going to ‘blend in’ and go along, no matter what I really think, feel or want to do.
  • I am going to judge and critique others for what is happening. It needs to be made right.
  • No one is coping with what is going on and I can look after them, even if they don’t know that yet.
  • I don’t care what I do to get results. I need to be admired and still be seen to be achieving.
  • I need to tell people how I am truly feeling. This is no ordinary situation and they need to know that.
  • I need to step back and make sure I understand everything. I can’t be seen to be incompetent.
  • I can’t believe that no one can see the significance of the problems here. I have to let everyone know.
  • I have to get out of here. It is all too painful and there must be something better that I can do.

A small but important step in the journey to vulnerability is to better understand our initial reactions. In our next blog post, we will explore what we can do once we recognise what is driving and motivating us.

Image by Anthony Tori at