honest-vulnerable-leader-mary-patVulnerability is a hot topic these days. We live in a mobile, ever-changing world. This means there is no longer safety in mediocrity. To be irreplaceable, we must be excellent. And true excellence begins with utter vulnerability. Vulnerability requires that we are honest and transparent in our relationships and business dealings.

The Oxford Dictionary defines vulnerability as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or criticism.” This does not seem at first to be a desirable state of being. Criticism makes us feel threatened, that our group or personal status is under attack.

Practicing vulnerability is about unlearning self-limiting responses that keep us stuck in a cycle of defensiveness and protection. The interpersonal value of vulnerability is recognized by psychologists, political speechwriters, stage actors, and countless others whose livelihoods depend on quickly connecting with others. This is because making oneself vulnerable shows others that our mind is in a place of ease and trust, that we hold others in high esteem. We show we are seeking an open exchange of ideas, not hostility.


Trust and openness quickly become a tall order in most business environments. The cloud of mistrust that envelops business creates a desire to hide our true thoughts and protect ourselves from attack. This is the opposite of honesty and transparency.

“What if they see the everyday me and they realize that I may not be the wunderkind they expect?”

“What if I say something wrong in a meeting and step on a landmine?”

“What if I have an idea and it’s rejected outright in front of the team? What if they are not telling me the truth; how do I protect myself?”

Unfortunately, this defensive attitude leads to question-dodging, the withholding of key information, and evasion of personal responsibility. It leads to cubicle dwelling and executive mishandling. Ultimately, it damages our ability to connect with and engage with our teams.

With information moving at the speed of sound and today’s new workforce in tune with that speed, we don’t have time for the politics of self-preservation in the workforce. It will be sniffed out in a heartbeat. Thanks to our info-savvy workforce, posers and politicos are quickly uncovered. Thanks to the caution and mistrust around workplace issues, radars are up.

All this begs the question: What is transparency? The answer is to be who we say we are; simply put, our behaviors must match our stated values. The difference is that we are now projecting our self-identity across new platforms. The next generation of internet-savvy professional will be quick to ferret out those whose professional integrity is inconsistent with their personal conduct. And navigating this unfamiliar terrain requires one to KNOW who they are — to recognize herself in a way they may have never considered before. And ultimately, it will be the ones we love who will hold up the mirror of truth to see where our actions do not match our self-professed values.

Vulnerability demands that we accept who we are while acknowledging that we can always improve. This empowers both the individual and the organization to see mistakes as course corrections, not failures, and to adjust and learn without constant fear of reprisal. The result is innovation and learning as free and open communication is favored.

Here are some questions to help you to match your words to your actions:


Do you truly know what you stand for? What is non-negotiable for you? No lip service here – write it down and question it again and again until you absolutely know this is true for you.


Are you regularly checking in with yourself or other trusted advisors (partners, family, and your coach) to make sure your action are matching those stated values?


When you go off the path (and you will), are you the first to talk about it, or do you prefer to hide it? Let your trip down the side road be a way for you and others to learn.

This creates a web of inclusion for your team and an environment where learning is more valued than finger-pointing. Remember: People are more impressed by self-accountability than masterful evasion of guilt.

Honesty, Transparency and Vulnerability are the evergreen behaviors to creating personal integrity and for connecting deeply and personally with your team and co-workers. It’s a key step on the path to Emotionally Intelligent Leadership. And…emotionally intelligent leaders know that it’s in the relationship, the honoring of emotions, the recognizing of motivators and – above all- the willingness to be a role model that the engagement we are all craving will be created.

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