The Importance of Vulnerability in Leadership

I have consistently made an effort to ‘be who I am’ and not ‘put on a show’ for anyone. In other words — true to my millennial form — I’ve always valued being authentic. This driving value of ‘being real’ has certainly shaped my leadership and given me credibility to others, especially those in their 20’s and 30’s.

Recently, however, I’ve been convicted that there’s a difference between being authentic and being vulnerable and also a difference in my willingness to embrace each. You see, I am who God has designed me to be and the way I perceive myself is informed by the fact that God is wise and made me with intentionality and care. This knowledge frees me to let those I lead see my personality, my talents, my quirks and even the areas I’m not so great in. For an example, spatial awareness is apparently something God thought I didn’t need (as attested to by the number of times I bump into things each day, including the mirror on my neighbor’s vehicle that I just wrote a check for) and therefore I’m not ashamed to admit I’m clumsy.

But the things I’m the creator of — the sin in my life, the bitterness I carry around, the literal marks on my body from seeking joy and solace in food instead of God — those things are whole lot harder for me to reveal, especially as a leader. Those things are guarded. I may be authentic enough to tell you I don’t want to talk about my issues but I’m rarely vulnerable enough to share them. Why?

As a leader, I use authenticity to say ‘you can trust me’ but I live in fear that being vulnerable undermines that hard-earned trust by showing just how affected by sin I still am.

How can we level with those we are leading about our sinfulness and still keep their confidence? Can we share our brokenness without hurting the forward progress of our discipleship relationship, church, or whatever structure in which we lead?

Counter to conventional wisdom, when we place our people’s trust in God’s hands and air our shortcomings despite the risks, we model that we are, indeed, trustworthy. The first and foremost confidence people should have in me as a leader should be that I am dependent upon God and fully trusting Him for my ability to lead. Being vulnerable is a tremendous way to demonstrate that dependency on and trust in God’s sovereignty and an exercise in releasing the grip on our hope of controlling our image. Those around us can see that we are not people who jump in the bushes and hide when we’ve sinned, denying the inevitable effects and the grace that God longs to give. We model that we truly believe the Word of God when it says ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” (James 5:16) and that we see sin for what it is- a dangerous evil that must be put to death (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5).

Now to be clear, vulnerability and confession are not primarily tools for better leadership — let’s not be tempted to fall back into considering our leadership output above all — but instead means of grace towards us and those we lead. But indeed this vulnerability and leadership, they do go hand in hand: we show our continual need for repentance and grace, model through our response, and then have the opportunity to support those we lead as they in turn show vulnerability.

Paula Rinehart in ‘Strong Women Soft Hearts’ sums vulnerability up so elegantly when she says “to be vulnerable is to voluntarily place yourself, for the sake of a larger purpose, in a situation that could bring pain. You see something at stake- your own spiritual growth or someone else’s- and you are willing to risk your heart in a vulnerable way.” As leaders, we should see the opportunity of spiritual growth in those we lead as worthy of the risk of vulnerability.

The very effective leader, Apostle Paul, knew not only the demands of leadership but also the danger of  concealing sin and the power of vulnerability. He states in 2 Corinthians 6 “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.” Paul knew the value in bare-ing his heart and showing weakness- and he goes on to instruct — for their good and God’s glory. “In return…widen your hearts also.”

Everyone stands to gain when we, as leaders, recognize the opportunity, appropriate place, and value of vulnerability. We integrate the whole of our being- needy and yet needed, those who depend upon us learn what it looks like to utilize the body of Christ in fighting sin, and God is honored as the only truly capable source of leadership.

So, speak freely. Widen your heart. Be vulnerable with those you lead.

Published February 24, 2016