By Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester, authors of The Power of Vulnerability

There’s an old-school belief that entrepreneurs who are great leaders are people who have all the answers, are bulletproof, and have no feelings.  But the real secret to unleashing power as a leader lies in vulnerability.  The more you open your heart, reveal your fears, and show your authentic self, the deeper the connections between you and your team – and among your team members – will be.  And in return, your team will achieve more–a lot more.

In our work as advisers to hundreds of businesses, we have found that vulnerability and authenticity need to be viewed as desirable traits, or else employees show up for work, and just to go through the motions.  Although they cooperate with others, their objective is simply to complete the task.  Fundamentally, they hold back from contributing their true value to their team.

In this context, we have learned that, if you’re in charge, the best way for you to lead is to act as a role model by being authentic.  As a leader, you should give open license to your team to actualize their presence by creating a safe place for the group to explore and discover as a team.

Remember, you set the highest bar in role modeling by actively listening or participating.  You can connect to your individual humanity by being vulnerable and communicating to others with empathy and understanding. The more you are able to challenge yourself to embrace both—showing your strength of courage, taking risks, aiming high, and showing your vulnerability—even in the face of seeming insurmountable odds, the deeper the team will be and the more it will achieve. Ironically, showing vulnerability actually strengthens the typical display of courage. This also means that the more shallow a team, the less it will achieve.

At a recent three-day retreat we organized, we saw the power of vulnerability at work.  In our typical fashion, we started the retreat by inviting the participants to get present by checking in with what was on their minds and how they were feeling, as we sat in an open circle of chairs.

We checked in first to model the process, and invited the CEO to follow.  He spoke vulnerably about his deep, profound fears and the magnitude of his hope that the team would make it out of the recession. He shared that he was afraid of losing the company and the impact this would have on others. He was afraid of disappointing his family and all of the families he had touched through the workforce. He spoke about his worry that one of his bookkeepers, who was suffering from a chronic disease, would lose her health insurance. He began to weep tearfully and said he felt responsible. Then, his energy shifted a bit as he raised his head and spoke to his belief that the company would make it as long as everyone held on to the core purpose of why he started the business—the ideal “that every person matters.”

The other team members immediately connected with his fears and were in awe of his ability to also grasp his hope. His authenticity set the stage for all of the content that ultimately cascaded from the minds and hearts of the team. Suddenly, the accounting manager volunteered to help a Marketing VP with a client problem that had been looming for too long, and two coworkers, recently divorced (though neither had known about the other before the retreat), became supports for each other. That check-in exercise inspired the group to move from a circle of coworkers to a team of fellow human beings who deeply felt each other’s pains and aspirations. The authentic connections bound them together in a winning belief and spirit for themselves and each other.

The boss began what was a pivotal year of fighting back—not just to survive but ultimately to thrive. The coherence of the team in its full power was birthed from the moment the CEO became human in the eyes and hearts of his teammates. He was easy to follow.

Vulnerability is the gateway to unleashing your power as a leader, and, in turn, the power of your team.  When you show up with your truth, that gives others permission to do the same thing.  When everyone is open and authentically themselves, the possibilities are endless.

Adapted from The Power of Vulnerability:  How To Create A Team Of Leaders By Shifting INward (Greenleaf Book Group Press) by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester.  Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester.  All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester are the authors of The Power of Vulnerability:  How To Create A Team Of Leaders By Shifting INward (Greenleaf Book Group Press).  As partners at Shift 180, they coach business leaders and their teams to unlock their full potential.  To learn more, visit: