Tech Leadership, In So Many Words … #8 Vulnerability

Andrew Weaver
April 18, 2023

Vulnerability builds trust and elevates performance.

It sits alongside empathy and authenticity as a triumvirate of the soft skills that help leaders to earn the trust and buy-in of those they lead.

Research shows that leaders gain much by showing just a little vulnerability and as Brene Brown explains “being vulnerable in the workplace means replacing professional distance and cool with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.

Brown paints a picture of typical scenarios such as …

– Calling an employee or colleague whose child is not well
– Reaching out to someone who has suffered a loss in their family
– Asking someone for help
– Taking responsibility for something that went wrong at work

Jeff Polzer, Harvard professor of organizational behavior, reports that being vulnerable gets the static out of the way and lets us do the job together, without worrying or hesitating.

Didier Elzinga, Founder and CEO at Culture Amp writes about his process for meeting new employees that includes reading them a W.B. Yeats poem;

“Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light; I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”

He goes on to say …

“We ask people to bring all they are, their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears and lay those down. But when they lay those down, they need to be aware that they’re also stepping back on someone else’s dreams. We’re all being asked to be vulnerable, even the CEO. By reading this poem, I try to set the bar and show them that we’re a different kind of organization”

Vulnerability is not about oversharing or talking about mistakes in an attempt to gain sympathy.

Here are some simple steps which should be baked into your leadership style;

1. Apologize when you’re wrong
2. Share new or different ideas
3. Discuss sensitive matters with authenticity
4. Set and respect boundaries
5. Have tolerance for mistakes
6. Get to know the people around you
7. Call out inappropriate behavior

And crucially it’s about this …

that when you show vulnerability it allows team members to feel more comfortable being open and honest with their own concerns, and that will only enhance the team dynamic and their commitment to you and to the project.

Want to find out more about CTO Academy and our Technology Leadership Courses, including lectures and discussions that look at Vulnerability in Leadership?

Visit the CTO Academy Website and in particular our executive leadership course, The Digital MBA for Technology Leaders that is winning rave reviews from global technology leaders

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