Vulnerability – A Guide for Team Leaders

Vulnerability, while it may be uncomfortable,  is essential for coworkers in the workplace. It creates strong bonds within teams and plays a critical part in a healthy work environment. Not everyone has all the answers to everyone. Vulnerability is the ability to admit when you’re in the wrong, when you’ve made a mistake, and ask for help when you need it, and employees know that they can do this without fear of being judged. It plays a key role in any high functioning team. 


Dr. Brené Brown said, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable.”


chain showing weak link vulnerability

Vulnerability starts at the top. It starts with the team leader. They have a critical role of setting the example for vulnerability. Vulnerable based trust doesn’t mean just knowing someone will keep their word but saying things like “I don’t understand what you mean, would you be able to clarify?” “I’m sorry for my actions yesterday, how can I improve?” Setting the tone and having open honest communication will go a long way.


However, many team leaders undermine team vulnerability unintentionally. It is often a result of their own actions that kill the vulnerability within the team. Being vulnerable is often seen as a sign of weakness but it is anything but that. In fact, it is the ability to freely express our emotions, our genuine thoughts, and who we really are. 

As a leader, it is important to recognize the actions that could potentially kill workplace vulnerability and the proper actions to take instead. 


Not being clear about expectations

When the expectations of your team are not clear, it allows fear and defensiveness to set in. Teams will be met with confusion and frustration. 

When these factors are present, team morale begins to dwindle. Instead, be explicit and transparent. A cohesive team will understand where everyone stands at any point throughout a project. Hold your team accountable to your expectations. This will improve trust and vulnerability. Remember to be honest and not sugar coat things either! It is nice to want to be kind to team members but sometimes being honest IS being kind. 


Not being the right kind of supportive

Have you ever taken a task off someone’s plate thinking you are helping them? While the intentions are good, reassigning tasks to be efficient can oftentimes squash vulnerability in the team. It often takes away something the employee either enjoyed doing or was excited to try. When things are taken away, they don’t get the chance to improve. Instead of a short-term solution, try being genuinely supportive, for example, ask how you can help or provide guidance. By encouraging your team and still being supportive, you open doors for honest conversation and long-term efficient solutions. 


Being too competitive does not demonstrate vulnerability

As a leader, you want to be better than your competitors. You want to lead the team to victory! Which is great, however, when you force this competitive mindset on your team, it can actually have the opposite effect. It can destroy collaboration. Encouraging a team to solely focus on their individual goals and individual achievements, creates an unhealthy sense of competition among teams. If the employees feel like they are competing they will be less likely to be honest with leaders and the rest of the team about their struggles. 

It is more important to reward shared goals than focus on individual performance. Set your sights on winning together! 


What are some practices to implement within the team to encourage vulnerability? 

If you want to build a thriving culture and enjoyable work environment for not only your teammates but yourself, support being vulnerable and the team will follow suit. Here are a few steps to implement! 



When things don’t go as planned it is easy to point fingers and place blame on others. 

Being accountable and owning up to your mistakes allows you to grow from your experience and learn from it. Figure out what went wrong and try to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. 


Be aware

There might be times when being vulnerable is uncomfortable. Be aware of how vulnerability is making you feel. Know your personality and how you react to things. Observe the thoughts and feelings without being critical of yourself. When you are aware of the discomfort, it will be easier to overcome it. Set your own boundaries and respect your own boundaries as well as the ones of others. When you are self aware it won’t only benefit you but it will benefit your team as well. 



Being unapologetically authentic allows others to do the same. As a leader, it is important to show that you are imperfect. Everyone makes mistakes including team leaders. If you expect your team to be perfect it will only lead to disappointment. Doing what is easy might seem like the right way to go but you should do what is right even if it is difficult. Have realistic expectations for your team. This will inspire the best in them. 


Have the tough conversations

Part of implementing a culture of vulnerability in the workplace means not shying away from having tough conversations. Even when it is unpleasant and uncomfortable it is critical! The toughest conversations often lead to growth. Once the door for these conversations is open, it will be easier for team members to push past their fear and discomfort. Company culture can greatly improve just by having these conversations. 

We are all human. There might be the occasional time when a leader slips up and negatively impacts the team’s vulnerability. When you encourage vulnerability in the workplace you will get the most out of each of your team members. Your team can learn from their failures instead of feeling discouraged and shutting down. Genuine connection and happiness will create a sense of loyalty among your team as well. 

Being vulnerable at work opens doors for innovation and authentic connections within the team. What are some ways you encourage vulnerability among your team?

Did we miss anything? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. 

NexLevel’s Team Strategists help leaders shift from the frustration of managing people to the satisfaction of achieving goals. We focus on helping build vulnerability within teams and would love to hear from you.

Contact us today.