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Learning Vulnerable Leadership

George Verwer
Yesterday I was on a zoom call with a team that is facing challenges. To start the meeting, I could have focused on their mistakes. But I had pulled the team together and I should have done a better job. So I began by apologizing. It set a tone of vulnerability that allowed us to tackle our i…
By sethbarnes
george verwer big
Yesterday I was on a zoom call with a team that is facing challenges. To start the meeting, I could have focused on their mistakes. But I had pulled the team together and I should have done a better job. So I began by apologizing. It set a tone of vulnerability that allowed us to tackle our issues.

Over the years, I’ve made so many mistakes in my various leadership roles! I’ve learned I cannot lead young people well unless I’ve learned how to be vulnerable with them. If not, I’ve learned, they will tune you out. Why? Because they have been lied to. They have seen their religious and political leaders fail. To cope, they have developed a filter for authenticity. So, only vulnerability allows you to communicate.

To lead in this new environment, we have to re-wire our brains. We need to practice humility and think differently about leadership.

Jesus was the ultimate vulnerable leader. He said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” He also said, “If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.” Matt. 5:28-30

Here are three principles that I’ve sought to apply:

1. Your weaknesses are a strength

Most leaders don’t see their ability to be vulnerable as a strength. They work hard to keep to keep their mistakes and flaws hidden. If you’re in a large corporation, you typically get ahead by projecting strength.

But, instead of being a sign of weakness, vulnerability can actually be a place of strength if it allows others to see you’re OK with the whole truth about yourself, not just the Instagram self.

We are all weak somewhere inside. These days, if you can share your weakness, people love you more. It tells them that maybe they’re not as bad as they feel inside. You’ll get more loyalty that way.

2. Vulnerability shows that it’s safe

Leaders who are strong enough to share their weaknesses diminish the power of shame. They allow teams to connect and become safe places.
I’ve worked in places where trust was low – offices where I had to watch my back. Then one day I woke up and I was the boss. While the organization I ran was small, it felt like a family. And in a healthy family, vulnerability is natural. We prayed for one another and cared for one another.

3. Vulnerability allows others to learn from your mistakes

Over time, the organization I led grew. Eventually, I no longer knew everyone by name, and much to my chagrin, we were becoming a low trust environment too.
So, there was a gap. The kind of leadership I wanted to practice was vulnerable leadership. What to do?
Fortunately, we had the World Race as a petri dish for leadership. We found that if we were ever to help young people process their identity issues and grow in faith, we had to create a safe environment – we needed to be vulnerable.
It was the one thing that worked over and over again. Every time we had leaders who led with vulnerability, others felt safe enough to begin to share their weaknesses too. Those teams bonded and became places of great growth.
Along the way, we heard more and more about the power of vulnerability in the press. Brene Brown led the way with her TED Talks and books. We noticed that her ideas began to filter into the workplace.
I realized that people could learn more from my mistakes than from my successes. My successes just made them feel inferior. But my failures gave them permission to take risks. Paradoxically, my vulnerability became a source of strength for others.
How about you – what kind of organizations have you been a part of? What has been your experience with vulnerable leadership?

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