C-Suite Advisory

Vulnerability and the modern leader

When Covid-19 arrived in Australia in 2020, I was working in my own business as a real estate agent. A significant part of that business was our holiday rent roll. Over the course of two weeks, when the first Australian lockdown happened, we took hundreds of cancellations resulting in the loss of around $300k in revenue. 

It was a challenging and scary time. I didn’t know if we could sustain our business, and no-one had any idea how long lockdown would last. I thought that I would be terminating staff and closing the business. 

Tears can do the job

But what did go well was me sharing this with my team at work.  They too were scared for their future, their family’s livelihood and their health.

At one particularly critical point, I shared my concerns with my team, including the part where I cried in the car on the way home for an hour. 

For some time, Covid became a mutual enemy, which did more to strengthen our team culture than any team building could ever do. I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of my team, told them the story, and told them how deeply unprepared we were. 

Two things surprised me. In the first instance, my vulnerability helped to build our internal culture. And, secondly, it created a common goal to bring about change.  

Stoicism rarely wins friends

Toughing it out might be what you have been taught to do as a leader.  The old adage ‘it is lonely at the top’ may have served the leaders before us; but it does little to enrol your team in the solution.

You might not want to show that you’re vulnerable or weak in front of your team. However, I’ve found that showing your vulnerability genuinely and humanly will do more to encourage your team to buy in on an issue than any team building or culture-creating session can.

Get real with your team 

As the pandemic progressed, I worked with my team in crisis mode. But, as the days turned into weeks, we saw signs of recovery and managed to hold on. Restrictions lifted, South Australians began to travel intra-state and our business began to recover. 

But, I can tell you, this kind of roller-coaster leaves scars.  Over the next 12 months, we had many conversations about the long-term viability of this holiday rental business. We even considered closing down due to the volatility of the market with ongoing border closures. 

Earlier this year, my team and I weighed up our options. We applied some creativity in terms of what we wanted our life (post-Covid) to look like and applied some logic to determine our results. The outcome? A profitable new business model that delivers better results than our pre-Covid approach

It is scary, but so worth it

Being vulnerable in front of my team about my fears and the realities of the situation did more to secure our future than any amount of stoic leadership could have.

My team got busy, like we were on a battlefield, and knuckled down to a range of solutions that actually strengthened our business.

Being vulnerable will take great courage.  It is counter intuitive.  Your logical mind will scream at you to assess the situation from an analytical perspective.  And, yet, your heart knows that the best way to connect with your team is through an authentic conversation.

But, being vulnerable, as a leader, will require that you lean into your own fears.  Being vulnerable will also ask you to step outside both your comfort zone and likely your technical strengths. 

I promise you that as a modern leader, the only way to lead change and challenge the status quo, is through the power of your vulnerability.


Written by Kerry Swan.
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Kerry Swan
Kerry Swan, the author of Heartfelt Leadership (Publish Central $29.95), is a born-and-bred project manager. With more than 20 years of experience as a self-employed consultant, coach, and teacher, Kerry has worked with hundreds of leaders. These days Kerry works with her husband Craig across their diverse range of family businesses. With interests in real estate, earthmoving, and agribusiness and a team of 35 people, Kerry loves leadership.


Kerry Swan is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.