How to be a Better Leader in 2021: Lead with Vulnerability

Leading in 2020 was tough—but leading in 2021 and beyond?

It’s going to be tougher.

It takes a lot of time, energy, and commitment to become a good leader. And the truth is that many leaders are not very good at it. (Too many people think being in a leadership role automatically makes them good leaders.)

The world has changed dramatically in recent years. People are fed up with leaders pretending they always know what’s going on and have all the answers. As a result, vulnerability is becoming a key leadership quality if you want to be a better leader in 2021 and beyond.

It’s time we start thinking about what leadership will look like when being vulnerable is no longer seen as a weakness but rather as a strength.

If you would like to know how to be a better leader, I am here to show you how vulnerability is going to do that.

Clenched fist raised in the air

The myth about great leaders

Great leaders are not superhuman. They are ordinary people who managed to do extraordinary things by earning the trust and respect of those around them.

And because great leaders are ordinary, they have flaws.

Unfortunately, those flaws often get lumped together with the positive traits of a great leader. This results in people thinking they need to emulate the flaws along with the positive traits.

Good intentions but not enough critical thinking.

A mime performing on stage in front of a crowd

The Steve Jobs effect was a good example of this. Jobs was infamous for how hard he pushed his employees and how he talked down to them. Consequently, too many people who admired his world-shaking influence thought they could get the same level of output from their own employees by being jerks.

They failed to realize people worked hard for Jobs in spite of how he treated them—not because of it. Those who worked for Jobs were inspired by his vision, his passion, and his work ethic.

You don’t inspire people by treating them poorly. And treating people poorly does not make you a great leader—it makes you a tyrant. If you want to be a great leader, it’s time to start opening up and acknowledging your humanity. People will trust you, respect you, and be willing to go the extra mile for you and the team.

A phone with a wallpaper that says Inspire

Vulnerability is one of the key leadership skills

“Leaders who are willing to be vulnerable, as long as it’s not about their core competency, create higher performing organizations.” – Dr. Carole Robin

Effective leadership is a relationship, not an individual accomplishment.

And relationships are built over time on a foundation of trust and vulnerability. It takes vulnerability to be yourself and to acknowledge your flaws and mistakes.

If your team sees you as a leader who understands mistakes are integral to learning and improving, they will start to trust you. They’ll feel safe enough to tell you about their mistakes and failures. They’ll feel safe enough to come to you when they need your help.

Most importantly, if your team trusts you, appreciates you, and respects you as a leader, they will do their best work—and isn’t that what you want from your team?

Two people drawing on a whiteboard

The benefits of embracing vulnerability as a leader

Leading with vulnerability will help you to create a more humane organization and productive workforce, which will lead to better performance. Here’s why:

  • People crave openness and being able to be themselves in an organization.
  • High performing organizations are those that encourage vulnerability (when done correctly).
  • Vulnerability helps people feel like they can share feedback without fear of judgement or consequences.  
A man giving a presentation to his office

How to be vulnerable with your team members

Being vulnerable as a leader means being open with your team about yourself and the organization. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Let them know that making mistakes is ok.
  2. Don’t pretend you have all of the answers and acknowledge what you don’t know.
  3. Ask for help when needed.
  4. Use performance reviews as an opportunity to ask for feedback from your individual team members.
  5. If there are any breaks in communication or unclear decisions made by leadership, make an effort to be transparent. Make sure your team knows what’s going on.

In order for this change to work successfully, leaders need to create organizational culture where being open is encouraged and making mistakes is acceptable.

A window with a sign hanging that says, "Yes, we are open"

Examples of how to be vulnerable as a leader

So what does this all look like? Here are some examples of vulnerability in leadership:

  • Asking your team for feedback on a project before you present it to get their input. This makes you look human, builds trust, and lets your team members know you value them and their opinions.

  • Sharing personal struggles with those who have experienced something similar, such as depression or anxiety. This creates a safe environment where your team members are comfortable opening up to you about personal issues that might be affecting their work.

  • Admitting you’re not a world-class leader and you’re open to feedback to be a better leader. This shows your team members you value personal development and you acknowledge perfection isn’t expected. People will then feel more comfortable being themselves and will be encouraged to develop their skills.

  • Talking about a past failure and the lessons learned from the experience. This tells your team it’s ok to take risks because failures will happen. If your team members aren’t comfortable with failure or taking risk, they won’t come to you until it’s too late.
A group of people sitting at a table taking notes

Why you should embrace vulnerability now, not later on down the road

After decades of no-nonsense leadership styles, it is no surprise that younger generations want to be treated like humans rather than hired help. If you don’t adapt to the needs of the next generation of workers, how are you going to attract the best talent to keep your organization competitive?

Sure, money attracts talent, but it doesn’t retain it. And money certainly doesn’t inspire people to do their best work.

But great leaders do.

A movie theater sign that says, "We celebrate unity, compassion, kindness"

In a nutshell

“Emotions connect us because they’re universal.” – AJ Harbinger

The old-fashioned way of leading is a thing of the past. As we head into 2021, it’s time to embrace new leadership skills and techniques that will help you succeed in an ever changing world. One of these key skills is embracing vulnerability as part of your leadership style. Interestingly enough, research has found that leaders with this trait are more trusted by their team members than those who are less vulnerable.

It is your job as a leader to create an environment of trust for others to do their best work. If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. We promise that embracing vulnerability will bring about positive changes in yourself and provide benefits for those around you. Your team will need someone they can depend on when things get tough.

Embrace your own flaws and support your team members who may need help admitting theirs as well. It’s ok not to have all the answers. When you can admit you need help and ask for it, then others on your team will also feel safer asking for help themselves.


If you’d like to learn how to effortlessly convey your values & shared experiences to increase vulnerability and comfortability, we’re here for you. We can help you make this happen by providing expert coaching in our X-Factor Accelerator mentorship program. You’ll learn how to be a better communicator so you can build meaningful relationships that take your career to the next level.

Rick Ahlgren - author of 10 posts on The Art of Charm

Rick is a 35-year-old human who spends his time freelancing as a writer, deadlifting (with his scrawny high school physique), and performing odd jobs for friends. He takes satisfaction from helping humans become more aware and better at life, which means he has to know what he's talking about for him to be able to help others. Rick enjoys long walks and bike rides because they help him slow down and pay attention to the details of this crazy ride we call life. Digs reading fantasy like George R.R. Martin and science fiction like Frank Herbert and Alastair Reynolds. Sometimes when Rick finds himself staring into space without any distractions, he'll ask himself "What am I doing?" Usually the answer is nothing.

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in Art of Business, Entrepreneurship, Productivity

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