Tapping Into the Power of Vulnerability

Two YPO members explain how emotion, vulnerability and authenticity can transform teams and organizations through the power of human connection.

Finding power in being vulnerable. It sounds like a paradox, but YPO members and certified forum facilitators Barry Kaplan, President and Partner in Shift180, and Jeff Manchester, Partner, Shift180, cite dozens of success stories supporting this approach in their book, “The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting INward.”

Can external courage and inner trepidation coexist? Kaplan and Manchester discuss how accessing vulnerability builds strength in individuals, teams and organizations.

What attributes might an organization exhibit that would indicate it needs your book?

Kaplan: The organization may be a functional work group without being a powerful team. Perhaps the employees are operating in silos and are strong in those functions, but they are not cohering as a team and cross-leveraging their strengths. Or there may be an “elephant in the room”: something that nobody is talking about but is blocking progress. Or it may be just a feeling among the team members that the team can do more, but they struggle to identify what “more” is.

Manchester: Many organizations evidence a lack of trust. People wonder if they can disagree with the boss and still be valued. People must feel safe to speak their truth, and they are more likely to do so when they connect as a team. Building connections requires an investment in time, often with no obvious, direct return. The organization must trust that it will ultimately pay off.

What is the difference between being a boss and being a leader?

Kaplan: The boss is appointed, is typically at the top of the vertical organization, signs checks, and has authority to hire and fire. There is nothing wrong with that; the problem is when that person holds back the potential of others on the team. Leaders can be horizontal on the organization chart. YPO forum is a great example of this: any one or all of us in the forum can emerge in the power of leadership.

Manchester: The person who is willing to take a risk and step into his or her power is a leader.

You stress that people should be their “authentic selves” at work. What does that look like?

Kaplan: It means being present in the moment, stepping into your power, showing up, speaking out with full truth. It is connecting with others about real issues — what really matters to you, to the team and the organization — even if it creates tension. If we can talk with people about their bad days as well as their good days, we are more likely to be aspirational about our team. To go to our highest highs, we have to also be able to go to our lowest lows.

Manchester: People who are being their authentic selves are genuinely easy to connect with. They are willing to let their guard down and be imperfect. We often do not really know our co-workers as people. When we get to know them and what drives them, we can speak more easily and understand their perspectives.

Why is buy-in more important than agreement?

Kaplan: It goes back to being a leader versus being a boss. If I have to agree with my boss to keep my job, I will agree. But when a leader invites me to weigh in, I have the opportunity to speak my truth. This enables me at least to buy in — and buy-in leads to commitment, which is stronger than mere obligation.

Manchester: Agreement is a choice from the head; buy-in is a connection from the heart. Buy-in is passionate investment in the cause. It says, “I am all in.”

Why does this organizational shift need to be a revolution, rather than an evolution?

Kaplan: Because leaders, teams and cultures cannot wait for evolution. It needs to be a peaceful, organic revolution. There must be a few evocative leaders who believe the organization can do better than it is doing and who build concentric circles of leaders around themselves. Not everyone will be on board and some may have to leave. Too many teams suffer too long catering to the lowest common denominator.

Manchester: It is a cultural revolution in how we interact and connect in the organization. It is a journey that requires an internal revolution within each of us. We do not all have to be at the same place on the journey, but we must be on the same journey.

Of your 15 aspirational guidelines for team interaction, which is the most critical, and why?

Kaplan: This is a difficult selection, but I choose “I will actively listen.” It is necessary for everything else to unfold. When I am actively listening, I am listening with my head and my heart, listening to the spaces between the words. I am opening myself to connect with you.

Manchester: I agree. If I am distracted as you speak, then you will probably feel that I do not consider what you are saying to be important, and sooner or later, you will quit speaking up. Active listening can be hard for YPOers. We are natural problem solvers, so when we hear something that sounds like a problem, we start trying to fix it — and the minute we go into that mode, we stop listening. We need to pause that response and listen actively and empathetically.



YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 chief executives in 130 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of our members have achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organizations contributing USD9 trillion in annual revenue. YPO members become better leaders and better people through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust.