Why is vulnerability important in business?

Vulnerability is the willingness to open up to others and be authentic, even when doing so feels risky. For business leaders, being vulnerable can lead to greater innovation, stronger company culture, and more effective leadership. However, embracing vulnerability is often easier said than done, as it requires letting go of the need to always appear strong and in control. This article will explore why vulnerability matters in business, the barriers that hold leaders back from being vulnerable, and tangible ways business professionals can start bringing more openness into their workplaces.

What is vulnerability in business?

Vulnerability in business refers to leaders and employees being willing to share struggles, doubts, fears, and weaknesses in appropriate ways at work. Rather than feeling they must always project an image of confidence and have all the answers, vulnerable professionals acknowledge they don’t know everything and are willing to ask for help. Vulnerability shows a comfort with not being perfect or knowing the solution to every problem. It’s a willingness to be real, humble, and open to input and growth.

Why is vulnerability important in business?

There are several key reasons why vulnerability matters in the workplace and leads to better business outcomes when practiced appropriately:

Vulnerability builds trust

When leaders open up and share their challenges or mistakes, it makes them more relatable and human to employees. Research shows that appearing more human and admitting flaws increases trust and connection in professional relationships. Employees are more likely to be vulnerable themselves when their leaders model openness. Mutual trust between leaders and employees enables more open communication and stronger relationships.

Vulnerability fosters innovation

Innovation requires vulnerability. To come up with creative solutions and improve processes, teams need an environment where people feel safe to share wild ideas that might fail. When leaders are open about their limitations, employees feel more comfortable suggesting unconventional approaches without fear of judgement. Vulnerability cultivates a culture of experimentation, brainstorming, and collaboration that surfaces innovations.

Vulnerability develops inclusive leadership

Vulnerable leaders show care for their employees’ wellbeing, seek diverse perspectives, and admit when they are unsure. These behaviors model humility over always needing to be right. Employees respect leaders more when they get a glimpse of the human behind the title. Vulnerability also makes marginalized groups feel safer to share their experiences and be their authentic selves at work.

Vulnerability strengthens company culture

Strong company cultures thrive on transparency, meaningful connection between colleagues, and employees feeling comfortable to discuss concerns. Vulnerability lays the groundwork for these cultural attributes. When leaders open up about their personal experiences, struggles, and values, it gives others permission to do the same. Co-workers get to know each other on a deeper level, enhancing workplace relationships. This vulnerability becomes a cultural norm that people carry throughout the organization.

Vulnerability allows for agile responses to crisis

Businesses that build a culture of trust and openness through vulnerability are better equipped to handle crises transparently. When tough situations arise, vulnerable leaders can acknowledge fears, knowledge gaps, and realities frankly while rallying their teams. Employees are also more likely to surfaced potential red flags early if they are used to speaking up without fear of judgement. Vulnerability enables agility in unstable circumstances.

What holds business leaders back from vulnerability?

Despite the many upsides, embracing vulnerability at work often goes against typical conditioning for business leaders. Some common barriers that keep professionals from bringing more vulnerability into their workplaces include:

Fear of appearing weak

Many leaders equate vulnerability with weakness. Showing uncertainty or struggles makes them feel exposed. However, research indicates that trying to appear perfect and invincible actually damages trust, while appropriate vulnerability builds it. Challenging the tendency to constantly act bulletproof helps leaders become more vulnerable.

Discomfort with being open

Vulnerability creates emotional exposure. Leaders who value self-sufficiency and privacy may find it profoundly uncomfortable to share personal details or talk openly about failures. However, the right amount of openness helps leaders connect with their teams. Getting comfortable with discomfort enables greater vulnerability.

Lack of safety

Vulnerability only works in an environment of psychological safety where people aren’t harshly judged for being open. Leaders must nurture a compassionate, human culture. Without safety, vulnerability feels pointless or risky. Building true safety gives people confidence to be vulnerable.

Fear of looking incompetent

Leaders are expected to have solutions, so admitting uncertainty or gaps in knowledge can feel like an admission of incompetence. In reality, honest vulnerability makes leaders more relatable. Modeling openness to feedback also motivates teams to help fill knowledge gaps. Letting go of seeming to have everything figured out allows vulnerability.

Habit of faking confidence

Many leaders cope with heavy responsibility by putting up a confident front. But forcing confidence takes mental energy. Admitting fears and seeking counsel is an emotional relief. Unlearning fakery enables genuine confidence grounded in vulnerability, not bravado.

Lack of self-awareness

Self-reflection is essential for understanding when, how, and how much to reveal vulnerability. Leaders who aren’t self-aware may overshare at inappropriate times or underutilize vulnerability. Introspection, feedback, and executive coaching builds self-knowledge to gauge appropriate vulnerability.

How can business leaders practice vulnerability appropriately?

When done well, vulnerability in business is tremendously positive. Here are some ways leaders can start integrating appropriate openness into their workplaces:

Open up about your leadership journey

Share your path to leadership, including failures and doubts along the way. Be real about imposter syndrome or challenging transitions. This humanizes you for employees and models openness.

Admit knowledge and skill gaps

Rather than faking comprehension when you don’t understand something, admit confusion. Ask others to explain concepts and invite perspectives different from yours. People will respect your humility.

Ask for feedback frequently

Proactively asking for ongoing feedback makes you approachable. Listen openly without defensiveness. Show you want to improve through the vulnerability of receiving critique.

Share leadership lessons learned

Be transparent about mistakes and what you learned from them. This shows people it’s okay to fail and talk about it. It also builds trust in your ability to handle vulnerability.

Encourage experimentation

Champion untested ideas and make it safe to take risks. Admit when some projects don’t pan out as planned. Your willingness to try things without guaranteed success will motivate others.

Talk about mental health

Don’t hide if you’re dealing with stress, grief, insecurity, burnout, or other challenges. Tastefully sharing your experiences encourages others to do the same and builds compassion.

Share your values and passions

Opening up about what matters most to you personally connects you to employees on a deeper level. It also builds self-awareness around your leadership motivations.

Foster social connections

Bond with employees through small talk, team building activities, and asking about their lives. Get comfortable relating casually, not just professionally. The personal connections make vulnerability safer.

Admit when you’re overwhelmed

It’s okay to acknowledge that the pace and responsibilities of leadership are difficult to manage sometimes. Asking for help models the vulnerability of saying no to some demands.

Share big life events

Appropriately discuss major family happenings like births, deaths, illnesses, divorces, or moves. This demonstrates work-life blending and inclusive leadership.

How can employees demonstrate vulnerability?

Leaders shouldn’t be the only ones exercising vulnerability in the workplace. Employees at all levels can help create change by embracing appropriate openness themselves. Ways staff members can demonstrate vulnerability include:

  • Admitting when they need help or mentorship in certain areas
  • Owning mistakes rather than covering them up
  • Providing candid feedback to colleagues and leaders
  • Sharing creative ideas that might seem unconventional
  • Opening up about stressors that are impacting their work
  • Respectfully challenging the status quo and voicing concerns
  • Contributing personal stories and humor to meetings when relevant
  • Speaking up about experiences with workplace bias or adversity

What are the risks of vulnerability in business?

While vulnerability has many upsides, embracing openness at work does come with some risks leaders need to manage. Potential downsides of vulnerability include:

  • Oversharing inappropriate or damaging information
  • Seeming incompetent if vulnerability isn’t reciprocated or backfires
  • Alienating stakeholder groups like customers or investors expecting composure
  • Distracting from priorities by focusing too much on emotions
  • Allowing public displays of vulnerability to impact stock prices if leaders are very high profile
  • Reduced influence if vulnerability diminishes leader mystique and allure

The risks make it critical for leaders to exercise good judgment in their vulnerability. Emotional intelligence, understanding context, and thoughtfully setting some boundaries around openness can help maximize benefits while minimizing potential downsides.

How can organizations foster a culture of vulnerability?

Organizations that want to make vulnerability a cultural strength need to proactively nurture it. Some ways companies can foster appropriate vulnerability include:

  • Offering training on vulnerability, empathy, trust-building, and psychological safety
  • Establishing employee assistance programs, wellbeing benefits, and mental health support
  • Building formal feedback, listening, and mentorship programs
  • Designing processes for risk-taking, speaking up, and conflict resolution
  • Rewarding collaborative behaviors, not just individual performance
  • Hiring for emotional intelligence and relationship skills
  • Providing coaching for emerging leaders on modeling vulnerability
  • Setting values-based behavioral expectations around openness

Intentional cultural development creates an environment where business pros at all levels can exercise wise vulnerability that serves the organization.


Vulnerability is not easy, but incredibly powerful when practiced skillfully. The confidence and courage to be appropriately open about uncertainties, flaws, and humanity builds trust, belonging, and compassion in the workplace. It unlocks innovation, agility, and inclusive behaviors. Though culturally countercultural in business, vulnerability is in fact a hallmark of great leadership. The most effective leaders embrace wisdom along with vulnerability by utilizing emotional intelligence, timing vulnerability appropriately, and combining openness with sound judgment. When done well, vulnerability transforms workplaces for the better.