The Secret Power of a Vulnerable Leader

brine brown mainAccording to Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, vulnerability is what can turn an average leader into an exceptional one.

This is the message she shared during the Inc. Leadership Forum, and widely popular 2010 talk at TedxHouston. And it may seem like a counter-intuitive idea to small business owners who deal with the struggles of running a business on a daily basis. After all, making yourself more vulnerable does not seem like the obvious answer. But after considering the ideas she puts forth, it seems to me that Dr. Brown is on to something.

Vulnerability is the willingness to take chances even when the consequences are unknown. While retreating to our comfort zones feels like the safer option, entrepreneurs who push themselves to be vulnerable in business are the ones who are able to take on the risks, and accept defeats, without giving up. Below are some of Brené’s main points, and how a small business owner can incorporate them to become a stronger leader.

The Science of Vulnerability

In Brené’s talks, she emphasizes her personal journey to overcome the stigma attached to vulnerability, which she initially was reluctant to embrace herself. After years of research, Brené found that those who were happiest and most adept at making connections in life were living in a ‘wholehearted’ way.

People open to bravely putting themselves out there again and again, in life and in business, were shown to be the happiest of the subjects she interviewed.

Why do so many people then struggle with vulnerability, she asks? Not only do we mistakenly view this emotion as a weakness, but we learn to numb it because it’s scary. When considering opening your first small business, it’s easy to focus on the all too real possibility of defeat. What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail in front of everyone? But as it turns out, by embracing the vulnerability of that act we become more willing to take on the risk of entrepreneurship.

It’s a Two-Way Street

Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown studies the positive effects of embracing vulnerability.

It would be easy if we never felt scared or apprehensive about a business decision. Who wouldn’t want to only experience the positive parts of life? But, as Brené points out, we can’t simply identify the hard parts of life, the vulnerability, fear, disappointment, and selectively numb those out.

When we numb certain parts, she says, we numb it all. When faced with difficult emotions, the easy response, as Brené puts it, is, “I’m going have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.”

Most small business owners are familiar with this trade-off. In order to feel that rush of success, you have to have the courage to risk defeat. And this is where your willingness to act in a vulnerable way becomes a strength.

Because becoming a better leader isn’t about being 100% right, or succeeding all the time.

You aren’t perfect, so why act like it? As a business owner, you can embrace the uncertainties of your chosen profession and use that to fuel your desire to adapt and succeed.

Joining a community of like-minded business owners is an excellent way to put yourself into your community and embrace collaboration instead of treating your fellow small business owners as enemies.

Not only will you feel more empowered personally when you recognize the power of vulnerability, but you can show your employees that you value their input and ideas instead of acting as if you are a completely on your own. Through your actions, you will be promoting an open environment, where a struggling employee feels secure enough to ask for help, or a creative employee can openly share ideas. And when success comes, you’ll be able to enjoy it even more so as a team.

You’re Already Vulnerable – Embrace It!

What struck me most about Brené’s message was that vulnerability is an inherent part of the human experience, and it’s within everyone’s power to embrace it. Every act of courage, Brené notes, is also an act of vulnerability. And starting a small business is a huge act of vulnerability, putting yourself and your products out into the world for everyone to see, and most likely judge.

But by taking that risk, you show a willingness to move beyond your comfort zone. Business owners who are open to constructive criticism, committed to working with others, and willing to take risks are the ones who have the best chance of creating a successful venture. And they are the most vulnerable, too.

Check out Dr. Brown’s full talk at TEDxHouston.

What do you think of Brené Brown’s views on vulnerability? Share your thoughts below!


About the Author

April Atwood

April is a freelance writer who combines her marketing and writing experience with a love for supporting small businesses. She writes, bikes, and uses a coffee press, but not in the pretentious way. Connect on Google+.


  1. Brene Brown and the Power of a Vulnerable Leader…

    As studied by Brene Brown, entrepreneurs who embrace vulnerability are the ones who are able to take on risks and accept defeat without giving up….

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