Leading with vulnerability to steer your charity's transformation

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Leading with vulnerability to steer your charity's transformation

Leading with vulnerability to steer your charity's transformation

It feels trite to start yet another article setting the context in which I write but these are challenging times...

We’ve been riding the coronacoaster and let’s face it, it’s been emotional. One thing I do know is that leadership in this moment has never been more vital. We have seen, and need to see, leaders who know themselves and are comfortable with their own emotions and supporting others to share and express their feelings in the workplace.

I’ve always been told that you shouldn’t show emotions at work and that they are bad. But an emotion-free workplace is an empathy-free workplace, and where there is no empathy there is also no trust, teams get frustrated and you see leaders clinging onto power. 

In fact, vulnerable leadership sits within whole organisational transformation. We need to move from:

  • Hierarchies to networks: the hierarchical model of leadership will no longer enable us to act quickly in response to both challenges and opportunities
  • Controlling to empowering: command and control leadership is no longer fit for purpose in today’s world
  • Planning to experimentation: we know that making a plan for the next 4 months is a challenging task. Thus, we need a new approach to enable us to keep moving forward
  • Privacy to transparency: leaders need to be open and communicate with transparency

We have a new generation of emerging leaders who are ready, willing and more than able to take on the opportunities ahead. Those of us who are in leadership now need to shift our approach to empower new leaders to come forward.

There are two simple steps we can all take to change how we lead now. 

1: Know yourself

When I stepped up and into leadership, I thought that the best way to lead was to copy how others have led me. That was a big mistake. The best way to lead is authentically – by being you. But in order to do that you first need to understand yourself. This takes time, discipline and a high level of emotional intelligence. You need to get out of your comfort zone and have a growth mindset. To always be willing to ask yourself “Am I growing? Am I learning?” 

Another way to know yourself is to find your values and strengths. When you are working from your core values and beliefs you are more likely to be yourself and have greater empathy towards others. 

2. Recognise that emotions are important

 “Every organisation has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of suppression.” 

- Olivia O’Neill HBR

We experience emotions all the time. A vulnerable leader is ready and able to share emotions and understands how to use them wisely.

Aristotle once said:

“Anyone can be angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not easy." 

So how do you manage emotions in the workplace? Well the key is to start with you. Look at your emotions, be aware of them and understand how you are using them. Perhaps someone or something has made you feel frustrated at work. The first step is to name and acknowledge the emotion. Simply by saying “I’m feeling really frustrated by X”. The second step is to understand what lies behind that emotion. Perhaps you’ve been let down again and again by the same person?

The third step is to identify a response – how are you going to take this forward? This may or may not involve you openly expressing your emotions with others. There are three really simple questions you can ask to work this out as a leader.

  • Will it build or break trust?
  • Will it show that I’m human or make others feel unsafe?
  • What signal will it give?

When you have asked these questions, you can pair your feelings with a plan for how you are going to address them. This will increase the sense of safety in your team. If your team see you being angry with no obvious solution, they then feel unsafe and unsure as to whether there is a way forward.

I challenge you to try this out. You will become aware of the emotions you are feeling at work and you will start expressing your emotions in a way that builds trust and enables others to express their emotions and see that you are human. You never know it might help reduce hierarchies, empower your team, encourage others to take risks and increase transparency in your team.


Emily Petty is a Leadership Development Consultant and Coach, she has been a fundraiser for 20 years and is passionate about helping fundraising leaders unlock their potential, raise more and work less.

As a senior fundraising leader Emily realised there had to be another way to lead successfully. That is why her approach helps leaders to understand themselves, find their strengths and have the tools to lead their way.

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