How to Lead with Vulnerability — Without Appearing Weak

By Marianne Renner: Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

I recently had a conversation with a leader whose team was going through a tough time. Rapid changes in organizational structure and budget cuts were wearing thin on everyone – including the leader.

Wanting to be transparent with his team, he asked, “how can I be vulnerable with my people without appearing weak?”

What a great question. The fact that he asked told me he was already headed in the right direction.

The best leaders know that being vulnerable with their teams can reap huge rewards.



Showing vulnerability fosters trust and creates an environment of open communication. When leaders display characteristics like transparency and authenticity, teams are more engaged and develop resilience.

But leading well can be tricky when you’re feeling the impact just as much as your teams. It requires the right balance of vulnerability and strength.


What vulnerability is and is not

It’s important to understand that vulnerability doesn’t mean weakness. Rather, it’s about displaying authenticity, openness and the willingness to connect on a human level.

Being vulnerable means it’s ok to share your emotions, but do so in a way that maintains professionalism and authority. Vulnerability is not about being overwhelmed by emotions but about being transparent and open about the fact that you have them.


Here are 5 steps to leading with vulnerability and strength:


1. Acknowledge the situation
Start by acknowledging the difficulty of the situation. Let your team know that you understand the challenges they are facing, and you share in their feelings and concerns.

2. Share your feelings appropriately
Vulnerability is not about being overwhelmed by emotions but about being transparent about the fact that you have them. It’s okay to share your emotions, but do so in a way that maintains your professionalism and authority. For example, you might say, “I want you to know I’m feeling the weight of this situation too, but together, we’ll get through it.”

3. Maintain confidence and optimism
While being honest about the challenges, maintain an optimistic and confident tone. Emphasize that you have a plan or strategy in place and that the team can overcome the situation together.

4. Encourage open dialogue
Create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their concerns and ideas. Encourage open dialogue and assure them that their input is valued.

5. Highlight past wins
Remind the team of their strengths and past achievements. Reassure them that, despite the current difficulties, the team has the capabilities to overcome challenges and succeed.


Remember that vulnerability doesn’t mean appearing helpless or defeated. It’s about sharing the emotional impact of the situation while maintaining a sense of strength, resilience, and a clear path forward. By striking this balance, you can foster a culture of trust within your team during challenging times.

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