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Why We Need Leaders Who Can Be Vulnerable

This generation of young people is hungering for authenticity and vulnerability. They’ve been lied to and have so many reasons not to trust. They want to follow leaders who have the courage to show up without shading the truth. The problem is that older generations have inherited a different p…
By sethbarnes
By sethbarnes

This generation of young people is hungering for authenticity and vulnerability. They’ve been lied to and have so many reasons not to trust. They want to follow leaders who have the courage to show up without shading the truth.

The problem is that older generations have inherited a different paradigm of leadership. “People admire strength in a leader. So don’t ever let ’em see you sweat,” is what we say.

So, how do we learn vulnerable leadership if we’ve never seen it? My experience is that listening to God’s voice helps to find ways to lead with humility.

Years ago when I was leading a ministry staff retreat, I could sense that many of the staff were in a bad place. They were burned out from a summer of ministry. One lady in particular seemed to have it out for me. I prayed about her. She was critical of me and might have been taking others down with her attitude.

“God, what should I do?” I asked.

“You should wash her feet,” he replied.

And when I did so, it changed the atmosphere of the meeting. Everything shifted from there. Showing my weakness allowed her to lower her defenses and see my humanity. The tension drained out of the room. The rest of the staff felt safe and we began to share at a new level.

2020 study explored the relationship between leaders’ humility and followers’ perception of authenticity. They saw that there is an inverse relationship between a leader’s vulnerability and her followers’ perception of authenticity and sense of safety. One conclusion from the study:

“Leaders have the capacity to decrease follower feelings of vulnerability, allowing them to feel more comfortable in expressing their true selves,” the research states. ‘Leader humility, depending on the degree to which it is authentic, indirectly affects follower felt authenticity through follower vulnerability.’”

My experience leading organizations with a high percentage of young people in the staff has been that this dynamic is especially true. Young people want to know that their leaders are authentic. When leaders are willing to be vulnerable, it signals a dropping of the props of positional authority and demonstrates their desire to be authentic.

If you think about the institutions and fields that have failed us and are perceived as toxic – government and churches especially – it makes sense that we would look for leaders who can give us new reasons to trust, leaders who lead with vulnerability.

What do you think? What has been your experience with leaders who lead with vulnerability?

Comments (3)

  • Prized your comments very much. Every generation has distinctives. One of the most impactful memories for me was when my fatigued Bible study leader came over at night and helped me shovel snow off two roofs – cold, heavy work. His servant heart permanently impacted me and has helped shape my choices for 4 decades.

  • Seth, in the 42 years l have known you since our Wheaton College days this trajectory is one you’ve been on. “I must decrease so HE can increase” must be the watchwords of our leadership life. Much love my covenant brother.
    Butch

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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