Certified High-Performance coach, speaker, author, husband, adventurer, former commando-paratrooper, and tsunami survivor.

Vulnerability in Leadership: Open Up or Shut Up?


Is vulnerability in leadership important? ABSOLUTELY. Can you always be vulnerable? NO. A leader must understand when vulnerability is appropriate and when it’s not. Only then, can he create deeper connections with his team while maintaining their trust and confidence in his ability to lead. In this article, you’ll learn what vulnerability in leadership actually means and the essential rules to know when to be vulnerable and when not.

A leader doesn’t have to be perfect; a leader has to be a role model. But pretending to be flawless only creates a gap between you and those you lead, because they can not relate. As uncomfortable as it might be, embracing your humanity is critical to effective leadership. I say uncomfortable, because we still have those stereotypes of a strong leader operating in a rigid top-down hierarchy. Although things are slowly changing and leadership becomes more effective, there is still a long way to go.

The ruthless, careless, and emotionless leader using fear to lead, doesn’t have a place in this world anymore. It is time to transition from “power over” to “power with.”

Effective leaders communicate clearly, and build trust and respect with their team. They create an environment where team members feel motivated, supported, and empowered to contribute their best work. Well, that requires some emotional intelligence and people skills!

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Vulnerability in Leadership: Open Up or Shut Up?

Vulnerability in Leadership: who is running the show?

Breaking Free from Toxic Masculinity

Being a leader is like being a parent; you’ll never really be ready, you can always do better, and there will always be someone to criticize you. Not an easy task! Men are more likely to end up in a leadership position (yep, there are still many inequalities in this world). Not knowing how to handle the pressure (or due to past traumas and suffering), some may fall into the trap of toxic masculinity.

This harmful approach emphasizes traits such as dominance, aggression, low emotional intelligence, and entitlement while stigmatizing vulnerability and nurturing behaviors. Those leaders usually struggle to establish authentic connections with their team and leave hurt people behind. Not the kind of leader you want to be (I hope!).

Embracing vulnerability and developing emotional intelligence are ways out of toxic masculinity and toward better leadership. But if you found yourself on the extreme side of the toxicity scale, I bet that reading those lines about being vulnerable and showing emotions was slightly uncomfortable. This is your ego going into panic mode. So let me talk directly to your ego; 

“Whatever shield or persona you are trying to hide behind, in reality, you are just scared and insecure. And that’s ok, we all are from time to time. However, true strength lies not in the illusion of invincibility but in the willingness to acknowledge and confront our limitations. Now, do you want to proclaim yourself a great leader or let people describe you as a great leader? Here is my invitation: instead of being strong, choose to be brave.”

Fear to Freedom: How Vulnerability Can Help You Become a Better Leader

There are so many stereotypes about being a good leader. Many people believe that being a leader requires strength and confidence at all times.

But when leaders open up and share their fears, struggles, and vulnerabilities with their team, they create a space for genuine connection and trust. This vulnerability allows for a deeper understanding of each other and the ability to work together more effectively toward a common goal.

Exposing your weaknesses and flaws to others can be terrifying, but by doing so, you are opening the door to growth and relatedness. Ultimately, embracing vulnerability as a leader inspire your team to do the same, leading to a stronger and more united group dynamic. As Brené Brown said: “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you.”

Encouraging authenticity

What if everybody recognizes his limitations and is open to asking for help when needed? What if people drop their mask and show up with authenticity?

Yes, once again, that requires the ego to step aside, but ask yourself: is the mission or your self-image that matters the most?

Here is the thing, when you are a leader, it is not about you anymore; it is about the people you lead and how you can lead them to accomplish the mission. A good leader gets the mission done. A great leader gets the mission done by helping others become the best version of themselves by becoming the best version of himself.

Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but strength; you gain respect when you admit and take responsibility for your mistakes, are open, ask for help, embrace feedback, and share how you feel. To me, showing awareness and extreme ownership is a trait of a great leadership.

That being said, vulnerability in leadership is not appropriate or necessary in all situations.

The Dark Side of Vulnerability in Leadership

The Dark Side of Vulnerability in Leadership

In the military, I learned the extreme approach of being strong, stoic, harsh, and ruthless. While I recognize the benefit of such a radical approach, I don’t think it is effective in most situations. 

A high-stakes, high-risk environment requires a specific way of leading; there is no time for overthinking and little margin for error. In that case, people (including the leader) need to be held to the highest standards, and there has to be one person making the decision and others to execute. Emotions and fears should not get in the way and blur the rational decision-making process; there is no second chance when bullets are flying around.

In the midst of those extreme situations, asking for feedback may be perceived as insecurity, and sharing emotions may be seen as a lack of self-control. And doubt is the last thing you want from the people you lead. 

Being a leader takes work. Demonstrating authenticity and vulnerability makes you real and makes people relate to you. But people also need to know that you have your sh*t together and that they can count on you. 

The dark side of vulnerability in leadership is the negative consequences of leaders being too vulnerable or sharing too much personal information with their team. Imagine a leader who breaks down in tears during a difficult meeting or shares too many personal details or struggles; that will definitely undermine his authority and make it harder for his team to respect his decisions. 

Vulnerability in leadership is about finding the right balance by considering the context and the needs of the team and maintaining professionalism and authority to lead effectively. You want to be empathetic and relatable but not unstable and without self-control. You want to share your doubts and ask for advice but not demonstrate a lack of confidence or competence.

So how do you know when to be vulnerable?

The Paradox of Effective Leadership: When to Be Vulnerable?

As I discussed this paradox with a friend, he shared a touching story. One day at the dinner table with his family, under tremendous stress and emotional pressure, he broke into tears. Later on, his oldest son came to him and told him: “ Dad, I don’t like to see you cry.” It was coming from both a caring feeling being concerned to see his father cry and being insecure and confused while looking at a role model figure being emotional.

Crying is OK; we should not be ashamed of tears. It is human, and we should encourage each others to express our feelings. But sometimes, it is not just a good moment. A leader has responsibilities and must balance vulnerability and strength. They are responsible for transcending their insecurities, doubts, and fear and showing up no matter what so they can lead effectively.

Leaders can practice vulnerability by admitting mistakes, embracing feedback, and asking for help when needed. Simultaneously, they can demonstrate strength by being decisive, taking calculated risks, and standing up for their beliefs and values.

Sometimes you must create a sense of psychological safety within the team. Sometimes you must prioritize strength to navigate high-stakes situations. There is no “one size fits all” way of doing it.

How and When to be Vulnerable in a Leadership Position

The essential rules to know when to be vulnerable

My rule to know when to be vulnerable is that when reflecting on past events, you can be vulnerable (share your mistakes, ask for advice, share your feelings, etc.). In the midst of a situation or while looking at the future, ask yourself those three questions to decide:

  1. Is it appropriate for the situation? Are you trying to build connections, or are you in the middle of a crisis?

  1. Will being vulnerable serve others? Or will it create confusion or diminish confidence in your abilities?

  1. What are the potential consequences? Weigh the benefits of vulnerability against the risks.

Always consider the needs of others and the accomplishment of the mission before being vulnerable.

In a nutshell

Vulnerability in leadership is essential in building trust and creating a deeper connection with team members. Effective leaders understand when vulnerability is appropriate and when it’s not so they can maintain their team’s trust and confidence. Embracing vulnerability can help leaders break free from toxic masculinity and inspire their team to do the same, leading to a stronger and more united group. However, remember that vulnerability is not appropriate or necessary in all situations. Learn to ask yourself the right question to know how to balance strength and vulnerability.

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Download Chapter 1 of my new book: "The Illusion of Time"

After nearly dying in a tsunami, I dove deep into personal growth, trying to find answers to my questions. I promised myself to live every single day to the fullest and inspire others to do the same. But for that, I had to get better at life. In my book “The Illusion of Time,” I put together 11 lessons to not suck at life and make the most out of it.

Download Chapter 1 of my new book: "The Illusion of Time"

After nearly dying in a tsunami, I dove deep into personal growth, trying to find answers to my questions. I promised myself to live every single day to the fullest and inspire others to do the same. But for that, I had to get better at life. In my book “The Illusion of Time,” I put together 11 lessons to not suck at life and make the most out of it.

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