Accounting for Vulnerability in Leadership

Though employee engagement is on the rise, a 2016 Gallup study found that only a third of all U.S. employees were classified as “engaged.”


A large part of that workplace engagement is driven by a company’s culture. Companies that foster authentic social connection tend to have employees who feel more invested in the organization (and its leadership) than those that don’t. There’s also compelling evidence that leaders who allow themselves to be vulnerable can help create these environments—while remaining more effective than their counterparts.


But what does vulnerability in leadership look like?


A Look at Vulnerability 


Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who is well-known for her work on vulnerability, describes it as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”


This can sound antithetical to the structured, tough mindset most leaders think is appropriate. In the workplace, we often strive for distance, hoping to project the right image: one of confidence and authority. The idea of allowing others to peek through the cracks in difficult or uncertain moments can seem antithetical to the traditional leadership model.


However, vulnerability doesn’t equate to “weak” or “submissive,” and losing your armor can in some ways lend you immense strength. 


Vulnerability to Build Trust


Trust has been shown to be a fundamental building block in terms of improving employee performance. Trust in a leader improves morale and helps cultivate a positive workplace culture. In short, it helps people feel more comfortable. One significant method of building trust is through authenticity and vulnerability. 


People have a surprising knack for recognizing signs of trustworthiness in leaders. Those who show genuine emotion and allow themselves to be vulnerable will  be seen as more trustworthy than leaders with a constantly cool demeanor.


What Vulnerability in Leadership Looks Like


Vulnerability in the workplace doesn’t mean a relentless emotional meltdown or constant shows of weakness. In fact, there are probably ways you allow yourself to be vulnerable without even noticing. Here are a few examples of vulnerability in leadership:


  • Admitting mistakes and failures
  • Encouraging constructive feedback
  • Asking for help with challenging work
  • Sharing your fears or insecurities
  • Being candid about your personal process and journey
  • Having the good humor not to take yourself too seriously


Some of the best leaders aren’t shy about their blunders or weak spots, because they understand that these are opportunities for vulnerability. Without them, there’s no way to earn trust with your team. And without those failures, there can be no innovation.


Vulnerability is about having a willingness to be seen for who you are, as you are. With a little vulnerability in leadership, you may even allow your team to see you as human, share ideas and communicate better, and invest in your organization’s success. Try inserting a little more openness into your leader’s toolkit to see the strength it earns you.

Our blog is full of ideas about creating connections between you and your team, from vulnerability and beyond—so be sure to check it out.

5 Things to Consider in Organizational Design

5 Things to Consider in Organizational Design

Does your company have what it takes to thrive in today’s fast-paced marketplace?


One thing I’ve seen over and over when consulting with different organizations: most of them have trouble laying down the structure that will help them succeed. When it comes to organizational design, the options for roles, span of control, chain of command, and metrics can be overwhelming. 


However, it’s worth making the effort to find the right balance, as your organizational design greatly impacts your team’s success. Here are the factors you should consider.


Designing Your Roles


First, determine the necessary roles within your organization. A good place to start is by deciding what your organization needs to get out of each role. What are the outcomes required of this role? What metrics will need to be accomplished? Identifying these will help you establish the tasks this role will be responsible for. 


Designing Your Span of Control


You’ll also need to consider the span of control for each role, meaning the number of employees the role oversees. This span can vary depending on several factors. For example, roles involving a high volume of work or longer learning curves should have less span. Roles with more standardized processes and high levels of independence should have more. 


Metrics through Organizational Design


As you consider how metrics fit into the structure of your organization, it’s important to make sure they’re well-designed.


To establish solid metrics for your team, begin brainstorming possible metrics by asking the following questions: Do your best performers do differently? What gets in the way of results? At this point, you’ll want to narrow down the list to only the impactful measures you’ll want to test.


Once you’ve established that the metric works for you, make sure it’s well-defined. This includes identifying whether it’s a team or individual metric and who is responsible for tracking it. Having a solid definition can help you explain it to and implement it with your teams.


Designing Your Decision Process


From here, it’s time to determine how decisions will be made. Identify key decisions affecting your business, and determine whether each one will be centralized or decentralized. Centralized decisions will involve just one individual in your company, while decentralized decisions will happen among your teams


For each decision, you’ll want to know who will make it, who will review it, and who will need to be informed. You should also consider the time frame available for the decision, as well as any avenues for appeal, if necessary.


Communication and Information Flow through Organizational Design


Within any organization, the flow of information is critical. Work to decide what information needs to be shared and who needs to know it. This can help you decide sharing frequency and who provides the information. You may also want to consider any secondary users who will need the information as well.


As you determine your next steps, check out our blog for more insights on your organizational needs.


Once you’ve considered these factors, the basics of your organizational design will begin to come together. The process will involve time and effort, but honing all of the factors above to your needs can greatly impact your success.

How to Recognize a Toxic Work Environment

How to Recognize a Toxic Work Environment

Nothing can sink the morale and effectiveness of an organization faster than a toxic manager.  Unfortunately, most of us have first hand experience with the damage that even a single toxic manager can cause.  With all the pain and suffering that toxic managers create, along with the decline in results that follows, it is true that they are a scourge in the workplace that must be dealt with. 


What does this toxic management look like?


Extreme Micro-Management


Toxic leaders can include micromanagers who undermine and correct employees, tyrannical bosses who blame them for everything and take no accountability themselves. Managers who seek to control every aspect, every activity that the employee undertakes.


Bad Communication


Insufficient communication is the cause of countless workplace issues, despite the fact that it’s easy to fix with a better focus on clarity. However, toxic managers will often hoard information, seeing it as a source of power. This shows up as lack of clarity and alignment around directions or entire projects. Different people may have received different information, and leaders may not listen to or value employee ideas or contributions. 


Tolerance of Bad Behaviors


Toxic managers will also allow bad behaviors to fester in their organizations.  This often includes uneven treatment, with their personal favorites receiving preferential treatment and being allowed to create their own toxicity. Behaviors such as finger-pointing, not meeting deadlines that cause problems for others, gossiping, undermining, etc. are allowed to persist, creating challenges for the entire team.





While a good leader will focus on the success and growth of their people, a toxic manager will focus on themselves. They will hoard the credit and share the blame—good things happen because of their “efforts” and failures are the fault of their employees.  Also, a toxic manager will limit the growth of their people, feeling threatened and therefore taking active steps to limit the potential of their team.



At the end of the day, employees are unlikely to want to stick with a company they feel has no respect for their values or needs. And if they do, they will not put forth the effort to make the organization successful. Symptoms such as high turnover and low engagement are a possible sign that you have toxicity in your management. It is crucial that you take steps to eliminate this cancer from your business.   By taking these steps, you will dramatically increase the success of your business, and will reduce the pain and suffering of your employees.  Take steps now to rid yourself of toxic managers.