Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were: Discussing Serving by Leading and Being Vulnerable

This is the third post in the series Becoming that Leader Others Wish They Were. You can read the first post on leaders having clarity and warmth here and the second one on influence and compassion here. This post will expound on great leaders serving by leading and being vulnerable.

Great leaders serve by leading

A leader must lead. Where others see obstacles, he must see opportunities. When others see problems, he must see possibilities…” David J. Vaughan, Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry.

There is a time a leader needs to step up to the podium and lead. It is such a disservice to the followers when the one in charge does not command and give a bearing when the sitaution is tricky.

The leader needs to offer direction that is strategically driven.

She needs to make tough decisions and take responsibility for failures.

He needs to balance strength with grace.

She needs to instruct with integrity and intentionality.

He needs to assess a person’s past failure in light of lessons they’ve learned and their current faithfulness to the task at hand.

When leaders lead, they offer clarity and share their vision. They motivate their followers with their passion. They lead by example – do as I say and do, not just as I say. They make decisions and communicate expectations. They hold themselves to a high standard of excellence and are accountable to others. They are also servant leaders.


Great leaders are vulnerable

Vulnerability and leadership are not two words that are easily associated with one another. Most of us believe that to be a good leader you should never show any signs of weakness, which is what vulnerability is considered by many. Vulnerability can be defined as being completely and rawly open, unguarded with your heart, mind, and soul. Embracing vulnerability means having the courage to face your fears and the wild uncertainty of the future. A vulnerable leader decides that she will meet that uncertainty with an open heart, willing to experience all the ups and downs that come with it (Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead). 


Once a leader decides to be vulnerable several things happen:

  • A culture of openness and loyalty is fostered. Performance problems can be resolved once and for all. People relate more easily.
  • He or she becomes more authentic. This in turn builds trust. Authentic behaviors include admitting to your flaws and mistakes, showing emotion, asking for and receiving help, and not hiding behind a manufactured facade.
  • Stronger bonds and connections are built. When leaders are vulnerable, they are more open and emotionally available, which creates more bonding opportunities and improves team performance.

Being vulnerable is part of transformative leadership. Appropriate vulnerability in leaders—being open and guarded in the right ways—can bless both the people a leader works with and the organization as a whole.

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Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were: Discussing Influence and Compassion

In the previous post we introduced some traits of great leaders, and delved into two traits: great leaders having clarity and being warm. This post discusses how great leaders have influence and are compassionate.

Great leaders have influence

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines influence as the power to change or affect someone or somethingthe power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen or a person or thing that affects someone or something in an important way.

To be a great leader, one must be influential. Influence, however, is not acquired in a day. It is a series of deliberate actions over time that allows the individual to eventually move into this position of influence. A leader can have influence in different forms, for example getting people to buy into an idea, challenging status quo, inspiring people, etc.


For one to become influential, there has to be an element of trust. Trust is that feeling that comes about when individuals believe that the leader is driven by something other than their own personal gain or is the authority in that particular space. Because people have an innate desire to believe in something/someone, they will look to a person who can offer them a cause (48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene). As a result, this leader will be able to influence behavior, performance, events, outcomes and create changes and improvements.

Great leaders are compassionate

The same dictionary also defines compassion as sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Beyond distress, compassion is the art of knowing and understanding the needs of others, understanding their emotional state, being empathetic, having selfless direction. Compassion is what moves a leader to help people, and helping people is the cornerstone of leadership. Compassion opens the individual’s eye to the needs of others so that he or she can provide leadership, security and relief, not just ensure projects are successfully exectued. Having compassion promotes healthy relationships and ensures positivity in an organization.

The Tibetan scholar Thupten Jinpa defines compassion as “a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved.” Specifically, he defines compassion as having three components:

  1. A cognitive component: “I understand you.”
  2. An affective component: “I feel for you.”
  3. A motivational component: “I want to help you.”


This enables the leader to move from an “I” mindset to a “We” mindset. This leader becomes a ‘Level 5 leader’ (Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins).

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!