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What to watch out for before you are vulnerable at work

I want to give you a piece of advice when it comes to vulnerability.

Yes, we need to be vulnerable and open and let people see us so we can bring our whole selves to work and have a larger sense of belonging.


Our vulnerability is to be treated with a lot of care.

What does vulnerability look like in the workplace?

Being vulnerable at work comes in many different shapes and colors. I'll give you an example.

In 2002, I was two years into my new role at Lord, Abbett, LLC, an asset management company, where I spent the last 17 years of my corporate career in Technology.

Unexpectedly, my dad became ill with lung cancer in July of 2002. The following three months were excruciating and challenging months for my family and me. We had to drop everything we were doing, and our priority was to take care of my dad.

I hadn't been in my relatively new employment long at all. However, being vulnerable during that time meant that I could trust sharing this information and situation with my manager, an understanding leader and a reasonable, kind person.

I let him know what my family and I were going through and that I needed some time to take care of my dad and take him to the doctor's appointments, making sure that he was getting the best treatment possible. Rich was incredibly supportive.

My dad suffered for those three months from July to October of 2002 when he passed away. I was so grateful that my family and I could be there for him and make the best of what seemed like a harrowing situation.

Being vulnerable and having the courage to open up to my manager about what we were going through required me to feel safe and to know that he would be receptive and supportive.

Be the type of leader who handles others' vulnerability with care.

I didn't know how it was all going to go down. But what I was sure about was that in the short period that I had known Rich as my manager, he and I had established a pattern of open, honest communication and that he had my back. And I used that foundation to approach him and ask for his support as I was going through that tough time.

Similarly, two years later, in 2004, my family faced yet another health crisis. My brother, who was only 36, suddenly suffered a stroke. Again, we dropped everything we were doing for my family and me to care for my brother.

Once again, I went to Rich and asked for his support. I also shared this with my team, who were generous and kind to support me through that difficult time.

If you are a leader, make sure that you let the people who report to you know that you are there for them; as long as they communicate with you, you can make things work.

When you help your team and employees feel "safe," and when you role-model for them what's like to be vulnerable, you give them permission to do the same.

And there's a caveat..

Being vulnerable with everyone is not a wise strategy.

If you are vulnerable with people you don't feel safe with, it can backfire.

This misplaced vulnerability means that people may take advantage of what you share with them and use it against you. They may target a time of conflict or discussions about who is qualified and ready to perform a particular function or who is promoted to lead a new initiative.

Even Brene Brown, who speaks abundantly about vulnerability, says you have to be careful with whom you are vulnerable.

Having the quality where you can be vulnerable, open, and accepting of your situation and given limitations speaks volumes as to how ready you are to be your true self and be your authentic self.

However, be smart about it and know who to be vulnerable with. Not everyone has your best interest at heart. As you build relationships (vs. transacting) with peers, managers, and others in your sphere of influence, you'll gauge who does and doesn't.

Save your vulnerability for those who respect you, value you, and who you consider your allies.

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Dr. Ginny A. Baro is an award-winning transformational speaker & leadership coach, career strategist, and #1 best-selling author of Healing Leadership and Fearless Women at Work. Ginny specializes in partnering with organizations and ERGs to develop leadership dream teams. And she supports individuals navigating a corporate hierarchy or transitioning into an entirely new phase of their career. She has successfully facilitated live and virtual leadership training and coaching programs for individuals and Fortune 500 companies with over 140,000 employees, and delivered keynotes impacting global audiences larger than 7,000. To learn more, visit ExecutiveBound.

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