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Navigating Vulnerability, Affection, and Professionalism in Leadership

I was listening to an interview with Brené Brown, whose work I think is incredible, and something was recounted that resonated with me. A General in the US Airforce told her “We believe you cannot lead people that you do not feel affection toward.”

In the same week, I read an article that said one sign of a terrible boss was that they ask you personal questions.

In a world where belonging is high on the agenda for workplace engagement, how do we balance vulnerability, affection, and professionalism?

Be Consistent. Ensuring fairness and fostering a sense of belonging within your team is essential. The perception of favouritism can lead to issues and negatively impact team dynamics.  

Foster connectedness. The importance of having a sense of connection comes up time and again in different guises, in psychology, research, and leadership models.

Be open to finding something to care about in the people you lead and sharing some information about yourself.

Ask what motivates them? What do they love to do? What are their priorities?

Spending time to know them better will help you to make decisions and better understand their behaviours.

The art is to find questions that create connection without stepping into the personal.

Develop self-awareness. Acknowledge the fact that we are all influenced by bias. It’s important to remember that each of our life experiences have shaped us in different ways and you shouldn’t expect the things that are important or not to you, to carry the same weight with others and that what is a safe topic for you, might be a no go topic for someone else.

Listen with intent. Be present in the conversation, minimise distractions, focus on what’s being said not your response and pay attention to non-verbal signals.

Be authentic and honest. Being realistic and open about your strengths and flaws will encourage others to do the same. The vulnerability to be realistic about concerns and challenges whilst framing with an optimistic outlook will embed an environment of trust and openness.

Master emotional intelligence. EQ is the ability to recognise, understand and manage your own emotions as well as being able to understand and influence the emotions of others and is an indispensable skill. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing my approaches to develop emotional intelligence. 

If you can be vulnerable and build connections with your teams, in an appropriate way that takes into account their needs and boundaries, you will be able to navigate the challenges of balance in your relationships.

If you want to delve into how we can work together to enable your leaders to balance vulnerability, affection and professionalism, contact me at

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