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  • Writer's pictureJenn Donahue

Understanding Your Team: Leading with Vulnerability


Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself, "What do I need to show up for myself or my team in a better way?"


If not, what is holding you back? Is it fear of judgment or past experiences that are making you doubt yourself? Embracing vulnerability can be daunting, but it's the key to authentic connections with others, especially in a leadership role.


Being vulnerable doesn't mean sharing every detail of your personal life, but rather, it's about removing the armor, taking off your camouflage, and revealing your human side to your team.


And when you do that, you create a safe space for others to do the same.


Not everything has to be a leap of faith. I made it to where I am today by taking a series of small, calculated steps.


Here are three easy steps to take to become more vulnerable with your team:


1. Embrace open, honest communications


As leaders, we can cultivate stronger connections with our team members by embracing open and honest communication. By going beyond surface-level interactions and having meaningful conversations, we demonstrate genuine interest in their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations.



Empathy is all about the ability to understand other people's feelings. This is not a trait many people are used to in leadership, but it’s a characteristic the current millennial workforce requires.


Empathy is the capacity to stand in somebody else's shoes and understand what their passions are, and why they're reacting to different situations. Many times this all starts with an open and honest conversation.


As leaders, we have to recognize that if we can understand what somebody's going through, then we will know how to best manage the situation. For example, let’s say you start to see someone at work slipping. They aren’t able to concentrate, they are letting balls drop, and something just seems “off.”


Instead of harshly reprimanding them (or worse, firing them), you can take an empathetic approach and have an honest conversation with the person. Maybe you find out there’s something going on at home that has become a distraction at work, or maybe you find out this person is going through a divorce. This changes things.


All of a sudden you see that this person isn’t a terrible employee, they are simply human.


If you can empathize, then together you can come up with a solution to make sure your employee feels supported and still gets work done. Maybe you decide that this person would benefit from more personal time in the morning so they come in an hour later in the morning and stay an hour later in the evening.


Each team member is unique, and as leaders, we must adjust our approach accordingly. Consistently showing vulnerability, trust, and having meaningful conversations will create an environment where open communication is encouraged, and everyone feels heard and valued.


2. Build trust with your people


As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is to create and nurture trust within our teams. When we encourage our team members to openly share their challenges, and in turn, offer support and understanding, trust is created. This safe space becomes a place for them to express their needs and concerns, and we are given the opportunity to show that we value them and are committed to addressing obstacles together.


Trust is not built overnight; it requires time and effort to grow, and it can easily be eroded if not paid attention to. To become effective leaders, we must go beyond just managing tasks and embrace a broader role of inspiring, empowering, and fostering trust among our team members.


Building trust is part of embracing vulnerability and that can feel intimidating, especially in leadership roles. However, vulnerability is the key to connecting with our team on a human level. When we show our team members that we are open to admitting mistakes, seeking help, and not always having all the answers, we humanize ourselves and inspire them to do the same. Vulnerability creates an environment of growth and builds a bridge of trust between leaders and their teams.


Trust is the currency of leadership. While it may be challenging at times, we must continuously work on our communication, delegation, and vulnerability skills to cultivate a strong foundation of trust within our teams. Learning from our mistakes and applying these lessons to improve as leaders is essential for the growth of these key leadership qualities.


Building trust is a journey that requires patience and dedication, but it is a journey that will ultimately lead to more successful and fulfilling leadership experiences.


3. Ask purposeful questions


As leaders, asking the right questions can help us understand our team members better and deepen our connection with them. Purposeful questions go beyond the surface level and encourage meaningful connections. They demonstrate our true interest in who they are and what they have to say. And that creates a sense of belonging and engagement within the team.


Here are five purposeful questions you can ask your team to lead with trust:

  • "What are your goals and aspirations?"

  • “What challenges are you facing?”

  • "How can I support you better?"

  • "What would you like to see improved in our team dynamics?"

  • "What areas of your role do you feel strong in? Let’s leverage them."


Recognizing and leveraging individual strengths within our teams is one of the most important roles we have as a leader. When you ask purposeful questions, you’re able to uncover more about your team and where their true skill sets lie.


When team members feel heard, they feel valued. These moments of purposeful, authentic interaction will bring a renewed energy to your team members and your working environment.


Vulnerability creates unstoppable teams


Becoming a vulnerable leader takes time, but it has huge rewards. It takes a conscious effort to pay attention and check in with your team.


Take one small step and see where it gets you. Try having just one conversation with someone on your team and see how they respond. Every person in your company is different and it’s up to you to get to know these differences and learn how you can leverage them to create a more successful and thriving organization.


When we are in tune with our team, we become an unstoppable force of nature that can achieve great things.


Are you wanting to connect deeper and lead with vulnerability? Reach out and let's talk.


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