Company Culture Building Block #5: Vulnerability

July 18, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

If we were to rank our most coveted traits, I’m betting vulnerability wouldn’t be among them. There’s a reason our brains are contained in a skull and our hearts are protected by layers of muscle and bone. Vulnerability – being susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm – isn’t something we’re hardwired to embrace. Just ask those among us who lead challenger brands, advertising agencies, design firms, and media companies. Vulnerability is not our preference. But it should be, and for one incredibly important reason. You can’t build a great company culture without vulnerability. And without a rock-solid company culture, you will never get where it is you want to go.

It’s not weakness. It’s leadership.

Of all the qualities that make for a great leader, vulnerability has to be the hardest. Even if you buy into why being vulnerable is important and valuable to your company’s big picture, letting down your guard, taking off your armor, and allowing yourself to be completely open with those you’re leading still flies in the face of human nature. That’s why, for generations, vulnerability has implied weakness, and who wants to be weak? 

In large part due to the work of Dr. Brené Brown, we are changing the way we look at vulnerability. We are starting to see that while, yes, stripping off a layer of protection can be seen as weakness, it can also be seen as the ultimate sign of authenticity and trust. It’s not a switch you can just flip on.

Opening yourself up takes time, introspection, and a lot of conversation with people you trust. But it’s worth it. The question is, are you really willing to go there? And if not, why not?

When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your team, when you are honest enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers,” and, “I need you to help make this thing go,” when culturally, “I don’t know,” and, “I need help,” become acceptable answers, a powerful shift starts to happen. As you lower your guard, so will others. As you increase your empathy, so will others. When you begin leading from a place of we rather than me, you will find collective buy-in comes surprisingly easy. The shift from “here’s what you need to do” to “here’s what we need to do” is subtle but powerful. But when your company becomes their company – when your company culture becomes their company culture — your forward progress will be exponential.

There’s power in letting go.

At LOOMIS, we’re big fans of the aforementioned Brené Brown. She’s the author of great reads like Daring Greatly and Atlas of the Heart, the host of two exceptional Spotify podcasts called Unlocking Us and Dare To Lead, and she’s the Right Reverend on vulnerability, shame, leadership, and empowerment. In Dr. Brown’s first TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability” (one of the top 5 TED Talks in history), she echoed why it’s imperative for leaders to lean into their vulnerability. In describing the revelations that came from her research, she said, “I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness. But, it appears, it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

The void of vulnerability.

Creativity. Joy. Belonging. Love. Last year, a full quarter of the American workforce turned over in “The Great Resignation.” Seventy percent considered leaving their jobs. Millennials and Gen Z aren’t engaging because they want to make an impact, but don’t feel they are getting the chance. It would be easy to look at them and scoff and tell them to stop whining and pay their dues. Harder to be introspective and ask how we could facilitate the difference they want to make. Which is a better, healthier way to progress? I certainly know which builds a transcendent company culture and which doesn’t.

Think about your most intimate relationships. Without vulnerability, those relationships wouldn’t be a fraction of what they are, nor would they be as meaningful.

Similarly, the relationships we foster with our teams and our ability to move them forward is in large part predicated on our ability to be genuine with them without the fear of being taken advantage of. For most leaders, that can be a tough leap to make. But making it is the difference between the success you enjoy now, and that which you dream about.

Sustained excellence requires it.

Picture the most extraordinarily consistent teams and organizations you know. Navy SEALs. Army Rangers. The New York Yankees. The New England Patriots. The New York Philharmonic. Cirque du Soleil. What do those groups have in common other than exceptional talent, work ethic, and a drive to be the best in the world at what they do? They have a closeness that comes from fearless vulnerability. That kind of elite, enduring performance could never be sustained with superficial connection or an absence of trust.

Neither can yours.

Think about your company culture and the people you lead. Do you share genuine connection, unbridled vulnerability, and complete trust, or are those completely foreign concepts? What about your team? Do they practice openness, honesty, and connection with you and with each other? If not, that is most certainly standing in the way of you and your team reaching your full promise. The good news? Lack of group vulnerability is fixable. All it takes is time, repetition, and the willingness to feel a little pain in order to move forward and thrive.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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