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The Case Against Vulnerability

February 11, 2020

The world of business is full of buzzwords.

Need an example (and maybe a brain break)? Check out the fun video at the bottom of this post. 

I’m in the world of leadership development, and one word we hear incessantly these days is VULNERABILITY. And I hate it.

Now, before we go any further, I want to make it clear that this blog is not meant to criticize, critique, or condemn any other leadership expert out there, especially people who have been far more successful than me. But I do want to make my case… my case against vulnerability.

The heart behind the vulnerability movement is positive. It aims to move leaders from yelling and telling to care and service. It challenges leaders to be more proximate and understanding to their people. It moves leaders from authoritative and harsh to approachable and inclusive.  

I agree with all of these notions, so I can get behind the sentiment of vulnerability.

But as a person who very much thinks that words matter, I have a problem with this one.

The word vulnerability literally means “the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally” (Oxford Lexico).

Wikipedia’s definition is even worse: “Vulnerability refers to the inability (of a system or a unit) to withstand the effects of a hostile environment.”

If we take this word by its actual definition, when we encourage people to “be vulnerable,” we’re encouraging them to expose themselves so much that they are unable to withstand any negative external forces. This is a bad idea.

So I want to propose three alternative approaches that encompass the heart behind this vulnerability movement without its negative consequences: humility, transparency, and authenticity.

Humility is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance” (Oxford Lexico). Humble leaders are able to admit when they are wrong, ask for help, and celebrate the unique gifts and abilities of the people they lead.

Transparency is “the quality that makes something obvious or easy to understand” (Merriam-Webster). Transparent leaders do not project an air of infallibility or importance. They offer access to their team and answer the why questions. And they let you know what’s really going on in the business and in their lives.

Authenticity is being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” (Merriam-Webster). Authentic leaders do not put on a show to project a false image of who they’d like to be. They show up as their whole selves and lead out of their unique gifts, talents, and abilities.

At the end of the day, I think the notion behind vulnerability has been good for leadership development, but I think we need to be more careful with our words. Being exposed to the point of being damaged is not a positive thing.

Let’s champion good attributes like humility, transparency, and authenticity as we work to redefine our approach to leadership and to impact people around the world.

And if you want to see the business buzzwords video, you can find it here.


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