The Power of Vulnerability in Onboarding

"The West Wing" television show gave its viewers glimpses into the moments before and after the public moments at the White House. Those viewers connected with the show's fictional characters far more than they did with real public figures during their staged public moments.


Brene Brown explains why this is so.  In order to make a connection with someone else, we have to let them really see us, leaving ourselves vulnerable to harm.  Click here to see her TED talk, "The Power of Vulnerability".

Implications for onboarding

Onboarding is about connecting.  Leverage the Fuzzy Front End.  Ask for help.  Be yourself.

Leverage the Fuzzy Front End

This is why the Fuzzy Front End (between acceptance and start) is so important.  It's the West Wing's moment before the public moment.  It's the first best chance for new leaders to let their guard down, be vulnerable and make connections with their most important stakeholders.

Ask for help

Asking for help is an act of vulnerability.  It seems much less risky to come in preaching the new vision.  But it's not about you feeling good about yourself; it's about others connecting with you.  Have the courage to open yourself up.

Be yourself

Great actors inhabit their roles.  They become the character they are portraying.  Do the same.  Except, the character you're portraying is you.  As  Brown points out, this is hard work.  You have to let go of the character you think you should be and be the character you authentically are – another act of vulnerability.

In summary, be vulnerable to connect, leveraging the Fuzzy Front End, asking for help and being yourself.

This was a little counter-intuitive to me at first.  What do you think?


  1. Bill Crain says:

    A diametrically different view: a new leader should actually be the exact opposite of vulnerable. Webster defines vulnerable as: Capable of being physically or emotionally wounded (emphasis mine).
    Question:  do the associates of a new organization want their new leader to wilt under attack from the internal organization or external competition?  I don't think so.  Rather, it wants individuals who actually have the mental toughness to withstand the kind of blows that one meets everyday in the office or in the field.
    An organization should looking for a new leader who provides stability, a commitment to fairness, and a vision and plan for growth.  It wants a leader it can believe in and work to meet whatever goals/objectives are set.
    The key to connecting is not vulnerability, but rather how the business is managed to get results. The new leader does not have to be vulnerable.  He/She can ask questions to show curiosity/inquisitiveness, objectivity, inclusiveness and desire to get as much information as possible before reaching a decision.  That approach generates respect and the connection to make the organization a good place in which to work.
    Another take on Brene Brown’s talk:  she confirms my belief that one must differentiate between one's work life and personal life – – or at least recognize that it is not necessary to be totally congruent in behavior in those two segments of life.  Exhibit #1:  I have been happily married to a woman for almost half a century who readily recognizes that she could not work for me for a nanosecond, and knows that I recognize that she would not stay married to me for a nanosecond, if I had the same mode of operation/standards at home that have been successful at work.
    Vulnerability may work at home but should be kept out of the office.

  2. Sue Edwards says:

    Hey George… when I first ready your post, my intention was to offer a response to the effect of "I agree" (with an accompanying underlying smug thought that "isn't this rather obvious?")
    By delaying my response I find that I'm now called to rush to your defense, George, and be far more emphatic with my head-nodding agreement.  Perhaps it's a mincing of words that is getting in the way of alignment for Bill, but I unequivocably agree that counter-intuitive though it may be, there is tremendous strength in volunerability as a leader.  (yes, in business, not just in their personal lives)
    Much of my work as an Executive Coach involves supporting leaders with this very conundrum.  Often it isn't until they understand the power of their own vulnerability for fostering followership and modeling the competencies necessary for a true learning organization that their full potential can be realized.
    Here's a newsletter I wrote some time ago on this theme  It contains an article called "You Gotta' Be Vulnerable to be Strong"  that probably says it better than my current rant.
    Suffice to say, it's been my experience in working with hundreds of exceptional leaders that one of the secrets to their strength lies in effectively accessing their vulnerability.  Many clients who have gone on to lead tremendous accomplishments within their organizations would point to this recognition as having been a turning point for stepping into their full power.
    So, count me in your court George.
    Sue Edwards



  1. […] recently, I had a new revelation listening to a talk by Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability. It helped me understand why that Fuzzy Front end is the first best chance for new leaders to let […]

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