Vulnerable Leadership

Vulnerable leadership is crucial for building trust and ensuring team success.

srinivasan sankar
4 min readNov 22, 2020
Vulnerability — weakness, fear, hurt, betrayal or beauty, rawness, deep love, power

Effective leaders ‘do vulnerability’ AND the best leaders are also the most vulnerable. Vulnerability is an important quality for any leader. Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

Right now, as the US faces a deadly pandemic, recession, and a racial justice reckoning, confident bravado may lead to more harm than good. Consider how Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the virus, displayed fearless bravado, and undermined the calls to wear a mask or socially distance, putting others at risk. Contrast this with the candid and data-driven approach taken by Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, or Sanna Marin, which saved thousands of lives and mitigated the economic damage to Germany, New Zealand, and Finland.

Leadership styles like “Power over” or a type of power dominated by fear and intimidation, and “power to, power with, and power within,” which is characterized by openness to collaboration and opposing views. It’s no surprise that Trump is an example of the “power over” leadership style. “Power over” leaders tend to employ fixed mindsets, which believe that struggling is a sign of failure. The two ways that ‘power over’ is maintained are fear and cruelty. On the other land, leaders who use “power to, power with, and power within” believe that their skills can be developed and use challenges as opportunities to learn.

Its high time now America could use a measure of “Power to” and vulnerable leadership.

Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams possesses this “power to” and “power with” important leadership styles and are very effective at it. Joe Biden exemplifies this type of vulnerable approach to leadership and it’s one of his greatest strengths.

Biden is open about his weakness and personal struggles and he is willing to engage in dialogue with people of opposing views. Biden has spoken publicly about many of the struggles in his life, from opening up about his speech impediment to the loss of his son Beau.

Biden grieved publicly after the loss of his wife and daughter in 1972, and even publicly opened up about having suicidal thoughts at the time. Biden has also been public about his lifelong struggle with a speech impediment, and used his experiences to offer advice to young people suffering from the same condition.

Biden is also comfortable being wrong. He is curious and encourages conversations with the possibility that he doesn’t know everything. Biden also encourages discourse, his choice of Harris as his running mate as an example of surrounding himself with those who have different opinions.

Biden, is an exemplar of “power to, power with, and power within” leadership.

Abrams has modeled a similar type of vulnerability. She is quick to acknowledge the role of uncertainty and fear in navigating today’s world, and has said that it’s normal, even healthy, to acknowledge these things.

Abrams has also gone public about how personal struggles in her life inform her political convictions. For example, she’s spoken about her brother’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and eventual prison conviction, and how his experience inspired her to fight for prison reform.

A less authentic leader might sweep these raw and often taboo experiences under the rug, but Abrams put them out into the open for public knowledge — an act that brings her to a more relatable, human level.

“For a lot of us, confidence is borne of tragedy and disappointment, and the realization that we can still do more; it’s borne of resilience; The most important leaders are those who are trying to get us somewhere; who are not simply trying to preserve the status quo or aggrandize or aggregate power for themselves.”

Stacey Abrams helped register 800,000 voters and flipped Georgia for Biden. Being vulnerable and resilient, this is her ability to inspire and influence others.

Here’s how to cultivate a more vulnerable style of leadership

  1. Start by telling the truth
  2. Ask for help
  3. Go outside your comfort zone
  4. When you make a mistake, admit it and apologize
  5. Engage others in your journey of self-improvement

Both Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams demonstrated all of the above qualities in some form or the other. Leaders of all stripes can take a page out of Biden and Abrams’ book, and learn to become more vulnerable in their day-to-day lives.

Embracing weakness and being open to other opinions are some of the most important traits of someone in power, be it in the White House or the C-suite.




srinivasan sankar

Chief Data & Analytics Officer #CDO #CDAO|#AI #BigData #DataScience #Analytics #MachineLearning #NLP|#Politics #Movies #Reading|6x #SuperBowl #Patriots #RedSox