Last week I wrote a blog entitled “What is Vulnerability,” in which I made an effort to describe the difference between showing vulnerability and showing weakness.

A couple of readers wrote in taking issue with my description of showing weakness. 

Here is what they wrote: 

“I’m going to send this to my client who struggles with vulnerability. I would suggest something, though. Your definition of weakness – leaders often don’t know what to do and are uncertain. I tell people they don’t need to know all the answers, and it’s OK to be uncertain. They can name that and ask the group.”

“I want to argue again. The definition of weak is as bad as the prohibition of vulnerability. Weak = uncertain!!!!! Really. Where does that take leaders? They get paid to be uncertain and lead. So everyone has to pretend to be certain. I don’t know what to do, but here’s what we choose to do, is what leaders get paid for. Easy when you “know what to do!”

Receiving both of these comments from fellow coaches who I respect, caused me to pause. The second one came from Rick Eigenbrod, who has been both an inspiration and mentor to me. I responded and asked him to say more which led to a conversation and the following insights.

If, at the most basic level, the definition of a leader is they have followers, then what must a leader do to strengthen, rather than weaken, their bond with their followers?

In the military, where the chain of command is strict, it might seem that it’s the structure that defines who is a follower and who is a leader. Yet we know that followers will disobey, mutiny, etc., when their leader appears weak even in a rigid system.

So, what is weakness?

Here’s where Rick and I landed on this topic:

  • Leaders must take a stand. 
  • While leaders may be uncertain about the outcome, they must be certain about their choice, i.e., give their followers something to follow. “Tell me which hill to take,” as a client of mine used to say. 
  • Weakness is the inability to find a platform upon which to take a stand.
  • Weak is being afraid to take a stand, vulnerable is acknowledging the outcome may be uncertain, our choices may all be risky, and we are moving forward with this one because…


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