How can leaders develop vulnerability?

by | May 11, 2021 | Effective Teams, Innovation, Leadership

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Daniel Coyle shares three skills of highly successful organizational cultures: 

(1) Build safety, 

(2) Share vulnerability, and 

(3) Establish purpose. 

This article is the second installment of a three part series about organizational culture and explores vulnerability. I previously explored psychological safety in my blog “How can leaders create psychological safety?” Safety and vulnerability are interrelated, and I think safety and belonging must be established before vulnerability is shared and experienced among team members. Vulnerability relates to one’s ability to ask for help or admit their shortcomings. Vulnerable teams are more cooperative and collaborative. Leaders sometimes struggle with vulnerability, because they feel like everyone expects them to have all the answers. 

Photo by Lukas on

When I was a young leader, I struggled with vulnerability. I thought everyone around me expected me to know more than I did. Leaders sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome and feel like a fraud. Admitting you do not know everything may feel like a weakness, but it is a sign of strength. If leaders and team members are not vulnerable, this can negatively impact the organization in many different ways.

Brene Brown has written a great deal about vulnerability. She wrote, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage” (2017).

Coyle (2018) suggest leaders can build vulnerability in the following ways (the book includes more ideas):

  1. “Make Sure the Leader is Vulnerable First and Often” – Leading by example will show team members that vulnerability is acceptable and expected.
  2. “Overcommunicate Expectations” – Leaders should strive to overcommunicate their expectation for teams to cooperate. 
  3. “Deliver the Negative Stuff in Person” – Instead of relying on email and other forms of communication, leaders and team members can build vulnerability by delivering negative information in person. 
  4. “When Forming New Groups, Focus on Two Critical Moments” – Leaders can set the tone for how team members respond during the first time teams encounter vulnerability and disagreement. 
  5. “In Conversation, Resist the Temptation to Reflexively Add Value” – Many leaders are accustomed to listening and then adding an idea or related experience that they had. Leaders can display vulnerability by simply listening. 
  6. “Make the Leader Occasionally Disappear” – Stronger teams can sometimes be built when the lead steps away at calculated. 

During one on one meetings with direct reports, leaders can show vulnerability by asking questions such as:

  1. How can I lead more effectively?
  2. What is something I should do more as a leader?
  3. What is something I should do less as a leader? 

Instead of feeling and acting defensively, leaders can simply thank their direct reports for helping them grow. 

Vulnerability will result in a stronger organizational culture that is rooted in cooperation and a desire to grow. How well does your team display vulnerability? We regularly work with leaders and organizations to enhance leadership and culture. Some of our popular services include leadership coaching and meeting facilitation. If you are interested in learning more about our services, please contact us


Brown, B. (2017). Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Random House.

Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Bantam Books.