In December 2015, AirBnB’s CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky had to issue a public apology over suspicion of racial discrimination taking place on the platform.

Chesky had to pour his heart and guts out to address the situation. He apologised and took firm corrective action by releasing an ad that aired during the 2017 Super Bowl.

As a leader, would you dare to embrace vulnerability to overcome adversity?

Yes, it takes courage to lead from the heart. But when you introduce vulnerability to your leadership, you open up space for emotional acceptance. You take full responsibility for growth. You move from robotic manager to authentic and confident leader.

Want to add vulnerability to your emotional intelligence toolbox? Start with the power of words!

Here are 4 simple words to introduce vulnerability to your leadership.


“I don’t know”: imperfection and culture of learning


The easiest way to introduce vulnerability to your leadership is to admit you don’t know. Because then you show that imperfection is ok. You send a strong signal that effort is about what you do and self-worth about who you are (not what you produce).

A leader who can openly share her mistakes demonstrates that failure is a full part of the innovation process. As Brené Brown puts it in “Daring Greatly”:

“To promote innovation, leaders need to accept the not so comfortable situation where ideas are exposed, even if they don’t really seem realistic. When leaders don’t do so, they instigate a culture where not all ideas are worth sharing.”

When failure is not an option, people are afraid to speak up. Risk aversion begins. Creativity is crushed and innovation is eradicated.

Related: 8 podcasts for leaders to switch on innovative thinking

Open a space for your team to share ideas. Show them how to take risks safely. Need a starter for ten? Share a story of something that did not go so well, and add « it didn’t work, but I learned a lot ».




“Can I help”: humility and culture of service


What do you do when something’s not OK in your life? You share it with someone you trust. You get support as you process the damage to your self-esteem (if any).

Why should it be different at work?

If you believe asking for help will be seen as “unable to do the job”, think twice. That’s a limiting belief about how looking vulnerable will reflect on you! (In other words, stories that are not always part of reality.)

Unfortunately, too many people struggle silently because their leaders don’t step in early enough to role model vulnerability.

Remember, the job of a confident leader is to remove blockers that stand in the way of growth. It’s to trigger inner change. A good way to introduce vulnerability to your leadership is to ask: “Can I help?”. Offer help and there’s no room to remain stuck, you remove blockers one after the other.

By the way, the same applies to you. As often as you can, say openly that you need help too!


Taking the lead = taking action. Grab my FREE e-book and discover 3 practical steps to build trust in yourself and inspiration in others.


“What do you think”: engagement and culture of inclusion


At the beginning of my career, one of my bosses would often ask, mechanically: “What do you think?”. She wouldn’t listen to the answer, instead, she would spend the next 10 minutes telling me my idea was bad.

Brené Brown has a name for what I just described: the disengagement divide. This is the gap between practised values (what we’re doing, thinking, feeling) and aspirational values (what we want to do, think or feel). When the divide becomes large, there is no trust.

And people leave you.

Related: Why leading people is not as bad as you think

Most of our modern cultures encourage employees to take initiative and suggest ideas. In other words, to be vulnerable. Be the first one to introduce vulnerability to your leadership. By asking “What do you think?” – within the boundaries of your team member’s role – you reward initiative. You indirectly promote authenticity. It’s okay to be open and transparent.

What follows? Deeper bonds, more creativity, honesty and recognition.






“What can I do – that I’m not doing already – to help you move forward”: growth and culture of accountability


Such a question is inspiration in action.

“What can I do to help you move forward?”, is a perfect example of how to introduce vulnerability to your leadership. No blame is (even remotely) possible. You acknowledge and if there is an issue, it’s a growth issue. You encourage your team member to seek improvement and accept you are there for the same exact reasons. You show that you take responsibility for what will come next – success or failure.

That’s the seed you plant in your people for future leadership or mentoring.



A few years ago, I attended a ‘women mentoring’ session with a top executive I really admired. She was clear about the one thing that boosted her career: “The moment I accepted that my job was to be uncomfortable. That’s exactly when opportunities to advance my career significantly opened up.”

As a leader, discomfort is where you’re about to spend most of your time.

The secret to dropping the underlying anxiety is to introduce vulnerability to your leadership. When you’re vulnerable to uncertainty, you are courageous enough to be real. You cultivate self-mastery to deal with what’s happening now, as challenging as it can be.

That’s the exact place where you can reach your potential and develop the confidence to lead from your heart.

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