The truth about vulnerability and why we all need to embrace it

The title of this blog is likely to have one of two impacts on you as the reader. Either you will be intrigued and want to know more, having heard of or even directly experienced examples of vulnerability being used to build trusting relationships; or it will strike fear into you.

Either is perfectly acceptable – we only have to look at the dictionary definition of the word to see that recent thinking is rewriting the rules.

Vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” That does not convey a positive experience. However, back in 2010, one Dr Brené Brown gave a TEDx talk called ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ and suddenly the reframe had begun.

Vulnerability: strength or weakness


Brown states firmly that being vulnerable is not a weakness and that this myth is profoundly dangerous. For many of us, myself included, it has taken time and energy to accept this because we have not often been in an environment where vulnerability was encouraged or even allowed.

One of the most common ways in which we feel vulnerable in business is when we are experiencing impostor syndrome. We feel that we aren’t worthy or capable of the role we fill, that people will ‘uncover’ us as an impostor. And, strangely, letting ourselves be vulnerable is one assured way to remove impostor syndrome. How? Because
vulnerability gives you permission to be imperfect.

As with many mindset-related matters, we are far harsher on ourselves than we are on others who display the very same traits. We are more inclined to see others being vulnerable as courageous.

In truth, letting our vulnerability out removes the power of the negative mindset. It removes the biggest obstacle to us meeting and surpassing the challenge of ‘are we good enough?’ Which is why there is a growing argument that it is a way to push you to the top of your game.

No one is too good to feel bad

Let’s think for a moment about why we admire people. It may be because they represent the pinnacle of what they do; because they do something we ourselves would love to do; because they are highly values-driven and ethical, kind or giving.

Of course, we don’t see what sits beneath the surface. It may surprise you to know that several high-profile business and entertainment industry names have admitted to experiencing a lack of self-confidence.

Sheryl Sandburg, Facebook COO, admits to having had impostor syndrome throughout her career in her book, Lean In. She felt that every time she excelled, her inner voice told her she’d ‘fooled everyone again’. Similarly, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, is quoted as saying “very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO.”

Singer, Adele, recently admitted to having impostor syndrome when she explained she was terrified of headlining at Glastonbury. Also in the celebrity world, Tom Hanks referred to his self-doubt as ‘a high-wire act that we all walk’. Perhaps most surprisingly, the seemingly uber-confident Lady Gaga has confessed to having to tell herself she’s a superstar every morning so she can get through the day.

What can we learn from this?

Each of these well-known individuals has used vulnerability – in the sense that they’ve spoken out publicly about their lack of self-confidence – to help them get where they are. It shows that the narrative is changing and that we are becoming more accepting of openness and honesty which are key to being able to be vulnerable in the first place.

The good news is there’s no shortage of advice and guidance to help with such challenges. And, of course, there’s coaching. It’s another thing that the vast majority of senior leaders do regularly and it’s a great environment in which to practise vulnerability on a smaller scale.

Check out more information on mindset, empathy, teamwork and navigating change on Tracey’s blog page or get in touch at or call 07891 851555.


“With more than 20 years’ experience in senior operational and HR roles within UK and US legal practices in London, Tracey has a robust understanding of businesses and their people, and a rounded appreciation of how individuals operate within those organisations.”

If this has got you thinking and you would like to talk to Tracey about how she could support your organisation, then do get in touch with her on LinkedIn or via her website.

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