Vulnerability in the Workplace – Yay or Nay?

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A recent book club meeting led to a discussion on the term “vulnerability” and what it means within the workplace. The Merriam Webster definition of the word vulnerable is 1: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; 2: open to attack or damage. If you use it in a sentence, the Merriam-Webster example is vulnerable to criticism. We asked ourselves, is vulnerability a key to success or failure in business and leadership?

On one side, we associated the term vulnerability with weakness. Some of our opinions cited in business and leadership, one needs to have gumption and a backbone! A leader requires the ability to take a hit, stand ground, and move the needle without emotions affecting his or her desired path. Vulnerability in this sense could show a leader's Achilles heel. If you recall, Achilles was considered the strongest of all Greek warriors and was considered to be invulnerable outside of a troublesome little heel problem. His one weakness, the heel, led to his downfall. In this sense, vulnerability can impact the ability to lead successfully.

On the other hand, vulnerability was described as a necessary trait for a strong leader! Vulnerability shows empathy and the ability to recognize one’s own weaknesses. Without vulnerability, can we collaborate and unite as a single unit? Vulnerability can build trust amongst a team. When we trust, it removes the fear of speaking your mind, it facilitates risk-taking, and it strengthens your relationships with others. If you have ever experienced a successful brainstorming moment with a coworker or partner that you really trust, you will understand the positive impact vulnerability can have. Sometimes the greatest ideas come from those fully unapologetic brainstorming sessions where any and all ideas can be put on the table. If you sat down with a leader or partner who was unable to withstand an attack on their idea, or couldn’t emotionally handle a counter to their opinion, would the session have been the same?

In the end, we did not attempt to decide if vulnerability leads to either success or failure in business and leadership. Every Company and culture is unique and will need to make that assessment on their own. However, we did come to the conclusion that all of our opinions had value, were appreciated and understood, and a bit of vulnerability came out in each of us during the discussion.