Here’s a sneak peek into my upcoming book: How To Hire the Best: The Entrepreneurs Ultimate Guide to Attracting Top Performing Team Members (Releasing November 18, 2020)

Vulnerable Leadership

“Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” —​Brené Brown 

What Makes a Great Leader

The best leaders among us are willing to do the work on ourselves, to explore our darkest places, and reconcile our own pain and shame. Our willingness to do this work on ourselves increases our capacity for compassion and understanding for ourselves and translates into genuine compassion for others. Vulnerable leadership creates the feelings of safety and trust that are needed for our team members to be at their best. 

Throughout her books and research, Brené Brown has been teaching us the true meaning of vulnerability. It is not weakness, she says, but rather “our greatest measure of courage.” In Dare to Lead​ , Brown explores what it means to be a vulnerable—and courageous—leader today. She and her team began interviewing seniors with one question: “What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?” 

“There was one answer across the interviews: We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures,” writes Brown. 

When she asked them to break down the specific skills of brave leadership, more than 80 percent couldn’t identify the specific skill. However, Brown was able to pull together…

10 behaviors and cultural issues the leaders say are getting in the way of businesses: 

  1. Avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback.
  2. Spending an unreasonable amount of time managing problematic behaviors instead of proactively acknowledging and addressing the fears and feelings that show up during change and upheaval.
  3. Creating an environment of diminishing trust caused by a lack of connection and empathy.
  4. Being afraid of taking smart risks or creating and sharing bold ideas to meet changing demands and the insatiable need for innovation.
  5. Getting stuck and defined by setbacks, disappointments, and failures.
  6. Feeling too much shame and blame, and not enough accountability and learning.
  7. Opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong.
  8. Rushing into ineffective or unsustainable solutions when things go wrong
  9. Creating gauzy and aspiration-based organizational values
  10. Allowing perfectionism and fear to keep people from learning and growing

Definition of a Leader

“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential,” writes Brown. “From corporations, nonprofits, and public sector organizations to governments, activist groups, schools, and faith communities, we desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.” 

Vulnerable leadership promotes feelings of trust and safety among your team. When team members feel safe and supported, they have the freedom to innovate and explore new ideas.  

In ​Fiercely Loyal, ​Dov Baron sums this up: “When the members of your team don’t feel safe to speak their truth, they are not safe to explore new or innovative ideas. When there is no safe place for vulnerability, people cannot be open or honest with each other. When there is no trust, people don’t produce their best work. It’s as simple as that!” 

The Benefits of Opening Up 

Vulnerable leadership also means tapping into the vulnerability of the team, which Steve Bousquet knows from his A-Players. He regularly has 1:1s with his executive and production teams that begin with their wins and successes, at work or personally. Steve then asks them five questions pertaining to the following: 

  • a challenge (something they can control)
  • an issue (something they can’t control, such as the weather or a bridge closing)
  • personal goals
  • company goals
  • one a scale of one to five, how safe and supported do you feel?

“At first it was awkward,” says Steve, who also felt vulnerable during the process. “But then it got easier, because I didn’t have to do a lot of the talking. It’s been a big benefit.”

For tips on how to work through these problems and coach your team more effectively, please be sure to check out How To Hire the Best:The Entrepreneurs Ultimate Guide to Attracting Top Performing Team Members, releasing November 18, 2020.


Dr. Sabrina Starling, The Business Psychologist™ and author of the How to Hire the Best series is the founder of Tap the Potential. At Tap the Potential, we work to free business owners from the constant demands of a growing business. We believe work supports life, not the other way around. Through our proprietary Better Business, Better Life™ coaching program, we transform cash-sucking businesses into highly profitable, Great Places to Work, then send business owners on a 4 Week Vacation™ to celebrate that accomplishment. After the first year in our program, our clients have more time for what matters most and more money in their bank account than ever before.

Never one to accept the status quo or back down from a challenge, Dr. Sabrina’s How to Hire the Best series grew from her desire to solve the toughest hiring challenges interfering with her clients’ growth and profitability. What sprang from her experience working with entrepreneurs in rural areas catapulted her into becoming the world’s leading expert in attracting top talent in small businesses — no matter what hiring challenges those businesses are facing — and earned Tap the Potential’s reputation as the go-to resource for entrepreneurs committed to creating Great Places to Work with thriving coaching cultures and highly engaged team members working from strengths. Her latest book, How to Hire the Best: The Contractor’s Ultimate Guide to Attracting Top Performing Employees, is an International Best Seller on Amazon! In this powerful book, Dr. Sabrina shares crucial hiring strategies to transform your small business AND improve your personal life. With her background in psychology, and years of driving profit in small business, Dr. Starling knows what it takes to find, keep and get exceptional performance out of your biggest investment — your team members.
Dr. Sabrina is working on her next books: How to Hire the Best: The Entrepreneur’s Ultimate Guide to Attracting Top Performing Team Members (available November 18) and The 4 Week Vacation: Work Supports Life, Not the Other Way Around (available Dec 1; featuring many of our Trailblazing 4 Week Vacation™ Retreat Participants!)