Written by: Victoria Chardon, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
“If you don't understand vulnerability, you cannot manage and lead people. If you're not showing up vulnerably as a leader, you can't expect anyone to follow you—period.” - Brené Brown.
If you’re a leader within an organization, at some point in the past few years, you’ve probably heard about vulnerable leadership, whether you know who Brené Brown is or not. Vulnerability is a leadership power tool. It enables us to build connections rooted in compassion and authenticity, turning us from corporate robots into people. Despite the lip service paid to this topic inside organizations, there is still a lack of vulnerable leadership demonstrated by most managers.
Why is it so difficult to be a vulnerable leader?
For a very long time, I felt that I couldn’t be vulnerable; I believed that showing vulnerability was a weakness. When you work in Tech, everything is about data, machines, and technological innovation. Emotions or humanity don’t fit the environment. Then there’s an underlying expectation, especially prevalent in certain cultures and societies, that you need a 'work persona.' We learn to compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives and personalities. As a result, we spend most of our working lives pretending to be someone else.
And then there’s the fact I’m a woman.
For much of my career, I’ve felt like I simply can’t be a strong female leader and be vulnerable. The world remains a long way from equality, which is true of the business world. As Sheryl Sandberg said, one day, there will be no female leaders, just leaders. We’re not there yet. Where a male leader is deemed strong and direct, a female leader is still perceived as bossy. Likewise, if a man shows emotion, everyone thinks he is courageous. But if a woman gets emotional - well, she’s just a woman.
All these things held me back from being the leader I could be for a long time.
Eventually, after a lot of coaching, I realized that I was suppressing the real me by wearing this armor every day. By pretending to be the strong leader that I thought I should be, not only was I being ineffective, I wasn’t myself.
The truth is, I’m a highly sensitive person who empathizes strongly with others. I am easily triggered by others’ experiences and often have an emotional response that I find difficult to control. As a child, I was told I was ‘too sensitive’ regularly, so I grew up thinking it was a flaw. I over-compensated by adopting a tough, direct communication style and distancing my true self from the world. I also held on to a perception that to be a good leader, and I had to be perfect. When my team looked to me for answers, I didn’t always have them - but I’d pretend I did.
To truly be a vulnerable leader, there is some deep work you need to do to stand in your true authenticity. It’s a painful process to unlearn certain behaviors and let go of long-held beliefs - they run deep, and it involves facing some uncomfortable truths. THAT is what makes vulnerable leadership so difficult. It isn’t about saying the right things; it’s about being human. I’ve had to let go of my perfectionism. I’ve also learned to embrace my sensitivity. Empathic leadership is a rare gift. And yes, this means I occasionally cry at work.
But I promise you, the rewards are great. My relationships with my team are much deeper and more enriching. They bring their whole selves to work, and so do I. This has enabled us to create a culture of psychological safety, trust, and empowerment that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s a culture where they can do their best work and feel supported as they do so, whilst I am free to make mistakes as a leader and learn from them without feeling judged. It’s also a culture where we can give one another compassionate feedback, admit our failings when necessary, and grow together through the process. Employees want to work for leaders who show up as human beings first and foremost. Strong leaders step out of what’s comfortable and into what’s real.
To be vulnerable is to be courageous. Are you brave enough to do the work, or are you happy pretending for the rest of your life?
Victoria Chardon, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Victoria Chardon specializes in fulfillment, confidence-building, and making big dreams become a reality. As well as being a Google leader who manages an international team, she is the co-founder of Rising Star Leadership, a consultancy that creates personalized coaching programs for groups, individuals, and corporations. Victoria helps people to connect with themselves on a deeper level than they usually would, pulling them away from 'life on the surface' and helping them claim their powerful, unique individuality. She also works with leaders to help them incorporate vulnerability and compassion into their leadership style. She is a vocal advocate on wellbeing and mental health and has taken to the stage on several occasions to share her personal journey and break down the stigma of mental health in the workplace.