Best-selling author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown calls vulnerability "the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."
Her now-historic and viral Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has long solidified the importance of vulnerability in the workplace, and how critical it is for leaders to connect with and inspire others.
People unfamiliar with the power of vulnerability, however, wrongly perceive it as too soft and touchy-feely, therefore, inappropriate for business and workplace relations.
On the contrary, vulnerability is about building trust -- the backbone of successful leadership. The best of leaders are catching on to the idea that when employees feel safe and open to express their ideas, differences of opinion, as well as failures and even fears, they are emotionally engaged with their work. This is good for performance.
What's the flip side? In the new book, Servant Leadership in Action, Brown explains how a work culture inept at vulnerability becomes a "cover-up culture."
She writes, "When the culture of an organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of individuals and communities, you can be certain that shame is systemic, money drives ethics, and accountability is dead."
The path to increasing vulnerability
Since vulnerability takes practice and personal development, there are things every person in a position of influence can do consistently over time to make vulnerability habitual.
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
It's the ability to truly know yourself -- your strengths but also your blind spots -- because what you don't know about yourself can severely limit and control you. Start by asking yourself introspective questions like, "Why do the same issues keep coming up over and over?" and "What makes me think, act and feel the way I do?"
2. Lead by serving.
Most of us have the "head" part of leadership down, where we manage tasks and direct people to business outcomes. But leading from the heart, by serving and genuinely looking after the needs of others, elevates employee engagement and performance to a whole new level.
3. Show up with your truth.
Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple--and practical idea--that people who aren't afraid to admit the truth are not going to engage in the kind of political drama that sucks away everyone's time and energy, and more importantly, gets in the way of accomplishing goals and results.
4. Be "present" with your feelings.
Strength in vulnerability will show up with statements like, "I have a confession to make" or "I'm really not sure where to go with this, what would you do in my situation?" or "I need some help here." That's what leaders should model and replicate inside their organizations. Being present with your feelings gives your team members permission to do the same. You will experience more connection and more honest conversations as a result.
5. Protect the workplace from developing a "shame culture."
In Servant Leadership in Action, Brené Brown says that leaders should "train all employees on the profound dangers of shame culture and teach them how to give and receive feedback in a way that fosters growth and engagement." She adds quite poignantly, "If employees are constantly having to navigate shame, you can bet they're passing it on to their customers, colleagues, and even families."