What do you think about when you hear the word vulnerability? For many people, the term is linked to negativity, such as software weaknesses, personal mistakes, or professional danger. But a new wave of thinking shows that embracing vulnerability is actually crucial to workplace success.

Consider the example of Peter Aceto, president and CEO of Tangerine. As a leader, he viewed his position as not getting too personally involved with employees--he was very stoic and poised at work and acted fairly robotically. After his mentor pointed out the facade Peter used when he came to work, Peter turned to vulnerability. He started talking more about his family, interests, and emotions at work; instead of being a personality-less leader, he added dimensions that allowed him to connect with employees. Nearly as soon as Peter started to embrace vulnerability and let his personal side show, he noticed that employees were more engaged and productive around him. Instead of just being the boss, Peter could build connections with other employees and improve everyone's work experience and the overall company culture.

In another show of vulnerability, Jim Haudan, CEO of Root Inc. asked franchise leaders to submit their most pressing questions, with no topic off limits or taboo. He received a huge variety of questions ranging from accountability to benefits and consistency, which Jim then arranged into 10 categories. Jim used those questions to start an open conversation with franchise owners. He showed immense vulnerability by stating he didn't have all the answers, but that vulnerability invited others to share their ideas and created a strong atmosphere of collaboration where everyone's voice could be heard. Showing vulnerability allowed the CEO to better understand his employees and the issues facing his organization and helped people feel valued and important.

Everyone has vulnerabilities, emotions, and personality components for good or bad. By hiding those vulnerabilities, employees and managers are essentially denying a major part of their personalities. Vulnerability allows people to connect on a different level, which can lead to increased collaboration, productivity, and cohesiveness. Being vulnerable means taking a risk, which can be daunting for one employee to do, but when all employees feel comfortable taking the vulnerability plunge, everyone can benefit.

Embracing vulnerability can look different for everyone, but there are a few questions and steps to consider. Start by thinking about who you are at work and who you are at home--are they the same person? Most people let themselves relax and be comfortable at home, so try to embrace those same principles at work to be authentic to your true self. Next, use that personality for real conversations. Employees want to work with a human, not a robot, and most people are excited to talk about their personal lives and emotions, either good or bad. Build connections with co-workers through real, honest conversations. Having open, non-judgmental conversations fosters an environment of cohesiveness and teamwork where people feel they can share issues and ideas, both personal and professional, in a safe atmosphere. That emotion can also translate to the boardroom. Don't be afraid to get invested and show emotion about a project or report. You might not always be successful, but getting emotionally invested in a project encourages others to do the same and can improve employees morale and excitement.

Vulnerability is still somewhat of a taboo term in many workplaces. However, as more leaders and employees capitalize on their vulnerabilities, workplace environments can become more conducive to real connections, growth, and opportunities and increase trust, engagement, and respect, which are all important factors for success in the future of work.

Published on: Feb 3, 2017
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