Authentic Vulnerability

When I was younger, I was more interested in image management. It seemed like there was a certain expectation for how I should act, what I should say, where I should go, and even what I should think.

Sometimes my thoughts would scare me. I believed if anyone knew about my doubts or fears, I would lose their respect. If anyone knew that I didn’t have the answers to the questions in my mind, I might lose my standing.

I don’t know if I changed or if it was my surroundings that changed, but I now believe almost the exact opposite. I think the most attractive leaders are those who reveal that they don’t know everything.


Patrick Lencioni is a great author and speaker. In a talk at the 2011 Global Leadership Summit, he gave several principles from his book, Getting Naked. I found much of what he said to be quite insightful:

“People don’t embrace vulnerability because it runs counter to our need to protect ourselves from suffering.”

“We think we can’t be vulnerable because of our fear of losing business.”

“When we are serving others, we have to do things and ask questions that might embarrass ourselves.”

“My job isn’t to look smart, it is to help people do better.”

“When we acknowledge our humanity, it attracts people. They want to be around us.”

There is a fine line, however, between being selectively vulnerable and vomiting your problems to anyone at any time. One is attractive. The other repels. One is the sign of a great leader. The other is the sign of a person in need of therapy.

Here are some thoughts that might help you take steps toward being vulnerable:

  • Don’t be manipulatively-vulnerable. In other words, don’t be vulnerable in order to get something out of the person (or crowd) you are talking to. People will see right through your façade.
  • Your vulnerability should increase with those in your closest circle. You shouldn’t give as many details to a crowd of strangers as you would with your closest friends.
  • Vulnerability and trust are dependent on each other. It’s tough to be vulnerable outside the context of a trusting relationship. However, it’s also tough to build trust if we aren’t willing to be vulnerable. Thus, there is a little bit of risk involved in choosing to be vulnerable.
  • There is one easy way to begin practicing vulnerability: The next time you are asked a question and don’t know the answer, admit it. Just say, “I have no idea.”

Another word for “vulnerable” is “humble.” In James 4:16 we are told, “God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud.” I think the same may be true of the people around us. When we choose the path of pride rather than humility, we keep people at arms length.

It’s okay to admit you are human. In fact, you will be a better leader with more credibility when you do.

Tim StevensComment