Vulnerability 101

We’re getting ready for our Daring Leadership™ Retreat and one of the questions that continues to surface is “What does vulnerability have to do with leadership?” Before we answer that question let’s define vulnerability:

Uncertainty, emotional exposure, and risk (Dr. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly).


Now that we have a shared definition of vulnerability, think of all of the leadership activities that require vulnerability. To name a few….

  1. Admitting mistakes
  2. Giving feedback
  3. Disagreeing with someone
  4. Saying “I don’t know”
  5. Asking for help
  6. Creating a new process
  7. Sharing an idea
  8. Asking for a raise
  9. Turning down a promotion
  10. Asking for feedback

All of these activities involve some degree of uncertainty, emotional exposure, and risk. Of course there are ways to avoid vulnerability (people pleasing, avoidance, cynicism, etc.), but at what cost?

Stay tuned. Next we’ll explore the costs of avoiding vulnerability.

Workplace Communication: Keep It Real

People are intrinsically built to disguise their emotions; it is human nature. However, this clouds communication and can create hindrances in the workplace. In order to be an effective communicator, it is advantageous to grab the shovel and dig out what is really going on. Doing so will give you the opportunity to find the source of the problem and work towards resolution.

Somewhere, at this very moment, thousands of employees are sitting at their desks thinking about how desperately they want to quit their jobs, even though they may not even be able to define the problem they are having. How can a resolution be reached in this type of situation?

Good employees are lost every day simply because of lack of communication. The truth is that it has to begin within ourselves. First, we must find that root feeling that is bothering us. It could be feelings of neglect, a lack of appreciation or disappointment. Identifying this root emotion is essential.

The next step is to communicate this feeling explicitly. Being honest and upfront is the most effective way to communicate your feelings successfully. However, this can be tricky and it will take practice and trust in order to let your guard down and say what is really going on. Yet, without this key point, the problem is unlikely to ever be fully resolved.

Below is a simple technique that you can put to use immediately. Instead of describing feelings as judgments (e.g. “I feel like you’re not listening to me,” “I feel like you’re too controlling”), rephrase your statements to accurately describe your feelings and nothing more (e.g. “I feel neglected,” “I feel fearful”). This simple technique practiced in the workplace (and in personal settings) can keep us from masking our feelings, placing blame and essentially avoiding to-the-point statements that clearly communicate the root issue.

Successful communication is a multi-faceted endeavor, in the workplace and beyond. It requires the participation of every member of the organization. One weak link, whether it be a disingenuous supervisor or a pent up employee, and the whole system can collapse. This is why it is important for everyone to do his or her part. When it comes to expressing emotion, be real. The results can help create a more open and forthcoming workplace.

Lisa Stirgus, Wells Fargo, District Manager/ VP

When Lisa Stirgus first became a district manager for Wells Fargo six years ago, she thought the transition would be simple. “I had it in my sleep,” she said. “I was always a top-performing manager.” But, as her boss had warned, going from managing individual contributors to managing managers presented a new scope of challenges.

Lisa soon realized that with her district being spread out over eight towns and cities across Northern Nevada, she could not be everywhere at once. She had to rely on her managers and the best way to get the results she needed was to mentor her managers in a way that would inspire everyone who worked for them to excel as well. This required an individualized approach, and with 10 managers on her team, Lisa had to learn how to teach to 10 different personalities, adjusting her leadership to fit each one separately and together as a whole. She believes that this is what created the team she has now, a team that has just completed its third straight year with the highest engagement scores in the state!

I have known Lisa for eight years and have heard firsthand from her team how much they admire, respect, and love her. Setting a meeting with her was my opportunity to find out from Lisa’s perspective what makes her a leader that people love.

Lisa started out by telling me of her reputation as a “pit-bull with a smile.” After a chuckle, she said the analogy was something she had taken to heart, and was even proud of. She’s created an environment where she can give honest and sometimes tough feedback—this works because she cares and because her team knows that she genuinely wants them to succeed in life and at work. Giving honest feedback means a combination of positive reinforcement as well as developmental feedback.

“My job is to build, grow and develop talent,” she said. Lisa knows that building confidence together with helping her team identify ways to grow and stretch is the key to breakthrough performance and engagement. Building confidence is an important aspect of a successful team; it changes the game. When a team member has a sense of purpose and confidence, they are going to do a great job no matter who is watching. Once this is achieved, a leader can then focus on providing direction and guidance.

We sat and talked for about three hours and as our meeting drew to an end I had a sense that what Lisa truly loved about being a leader was helping people achieve what they never thought was possible. She has a passion for what she does and believes that if you focus on cultivating talent and invest in developing your team, you’ll not only achieve your goals, but you’ll exceed your goals. It also creates a ripple effect; an engaged team leads to an engaged customer base. Love your team the way that you want them to love your customers. I call it contagious leadership. Setting the bar high and modeling the way every day sets the tone for everyone in the workplace. Lisa is constantly asking herself, “Am I living and breathing what I expect from my team?” It’s a top-down approach and it is truly inspirational.