Why would you want to be vulnerable at work? As a woman, it is certainly not an approach I would have ever embraced at least not openly in the office.

But for skeptics like me, there are benefits to understanding why and how to embrace vulnerability, even at work.

Brown, Sandberg ...

We have seen a few public examples of vulnerability enter the mainstream over the past five years. Brené Brown's Ted Talk (see above) has been viewed over 29 million times, and more recently Sheryl Sandberg has written a second best-selling book that is layered with lessons on the value of embracing vulnerability.

But what does it mean and why should we care?

It means something different to everyone. It could be anything from confessing a less-than-stellar decision to the firm's employment attorney to sharing a personal challenge with the entire organization at the annual staff meeting. The first step in understanding the importance of vulnerability to successful leadership is comprehending what it means to each of us, at this moment in our careers.


Like any other path to professional growth, acknowledging the starting point is the most important step. The second step is figuring out a realistic goal based on that starting point.

In other words, if getting to this point in the article is a struggle because the word vulnerability is so annoying, then the goal might simply be to find how it could be a valuable trait, even for someone else. Conversely, if reciting the key points of Brown's talk are second nature, then a realistic goal could be to further exemplify vulnerability in a mentoring relationship.

With either goal, it will become clear that embracing vulnerability is not about embracing failure or weakness. In fact, it takes a healthy dose of confidence and strength to begin to accept vulnerability.

Next steps

For those of us who prefer a more formal approach to professional development or who might need a little expert assistance learning more about this aspect of leadership, we can take a more active approach by engaging a coach or taking a course.

Tara Mohr has taught a course called Playing Big to help women leaders move past limiting beliefs. Renaissance Executive Forums builds CEO cohorts with the goal of facilitating productive, open and honest conversations among CEOs about the challenges they are facing.

Having coached executives, participated in Mohr’s course and facilitated CEO cohorts, I can confirm from both sides of the table, the positive and significant business impact that comes from discussing challenges in a safe environment.

The bottom line is: While being vulnerable at work may not be in our nature, working toward it may lead us to be more open and authentic leaders and that is always worth the effort.