Vulnerability, Respect and loyalty

This story is true. Names are excluded for the sake of privacy.

He couldn’t believe his ears. A senior member of the management team actually said they felt like they were drowning. In more than 15 years he’d never heard anything like it. Before this, the company line was, “We’ll do what we have to do to get the job done.”

He embraced that philosophy and had spent many Saturdays doing what needed to be done. He’d seen others stressed and frustrated with unrealistic workloads while they did what needed to be done. But now, three years into their new position, this senior manager publicly said they were drowning in the workload and they needed help. It was counter-cultural. It was a moment of unprecedented vulnerability.

It’s not that others hadn’t complained about the workload. They had. But no one had come close to making it personal, human. No one had ever suggested that things needed to change.

The dynamic of respect

Respect is earned through competence. We respect an athlete’s skill, a speaker’s ability to influence, or a leader’s calm during stress. On the other hand, honesty about limits and frailty also earns respect.

You might fear that vulnerability calls for pity or disrespect. Within some organizational cultures, you’d be right, it does. On the other hand authentic vulnerability calls for respect in organizations that value people and integrity. This type of respect always begins at the top. Followers seldom if ever have the courage to be vulnerable when their leaders aren’t.

More than respect, vulnerability elicits loyalty. When people are drowning others throw them a rope.  In this case, doing what needs to be done becomes people centered not production oriented. Doing what needs to be done has meaning and satisfies the human need for fulfillment.

Courageous vulnerability leads to respect and loyalty.


Can leaders go too far with vulnerability?

What have leaders done to earn your respect?