During my university years, I had aspirations to pursue a career in business. My studies and subsequent line of work allowed me to focus on that ambition, and provided me with multiple ongoing learning opportunities throughout the years — which I thrived on, since I truly enjoy learning.

A pivotal learning opportunity

One of these learning moments occurred while attending a leadership development program.

I worked with colleagues from different professional backgrounds and geographies — privileged to be part of this cohort and eager to learn what it takes to be a good leader.

This journey allowed us to share our respective challenges, support one another in finding solutions, and share views about leadership. And as we got to know each other, we were able to share feedback on our strengths and areas of improvement. (No, I am not a big fan of the words “failure” and “weakness” — I see these as learning opportunities.)

I have little recollection of the positive feedback that was shared. What I recall quite well, though, is the feedback for improvement: to be more human and less corporate, to show vulnerability, and to shed any perceived veneer. And to be… outrageous!

More human? For someone who works in HR, that did not resonate well.

Less corporate in how I come across? But I represent my company and want to do it well.

Veneer? Lost in translation. I did not know what that meant, but found a definition: a superficial or deceptive appearance.

That feedback initially hurt. I kept trying to convince myself that I was simply doing my job as an HR professional and that I must proudly represent my organization in the most professional and perfect way. 

A more open leadership style

It took some time for the feedback to sink in, and to help me realize that:

  • It's okay to be open and show vulnerability, even in an HR role.
  • It’s okay to not have answers to everything.
  • It’s okay to not take myself too seriously (of course, while taking my job seriously).
  • It’s okay to simply be myself.

That defining moment shaped my approach to leadership. Today, displaying a genuine interest in others, being curious about their perspective, and being open is key to building strong connections with people around me — within my teams, clients, and stakeholders.

This approach was particularly helpful when I led a team with expertise beyond the HR function, pushing me out of my comfort zone. From the beginning, I made it clear that I had much to learn about their reality. I trusted them and aimed to empower their work, which laid a solid foundation of trust.

This is when people will go the extra mile without being asked:

  • When they feel understood and valued
  • When their input and ideas are solicited
  • When they feel empowered, supported, and inspired

These are powerful ways to drive employee engagement, particularly as we see so many companies struggle to attract and retain talent.

Vulnerability in communication 

Leading others is not always an easy task — but it’s made much easier when leaders can establish a working climate that emphasizes respect, trust, collaboration, and transparency, which allows team members to truly be themselves.

To do so, leaders need to rely on the most powerful tool they have: their ability to communicate.

When you think of it, everything revolves around this ability. Sharing the vision. Setting the goals. Listening. Asking questions. Providing feedback. Asking for help. Asking for feedback. And, for a leader, asking for feedback does require vulnerability, openness, and humility.  

In my experience, open and honest communication, supported by vulnerability, brings real issues to light, helps teams achieve better results, and fosters personal and leadership growth.

Over the years, I’ve no doubt gained loads of knowledge. But I still feel ignorant, knowing that there is still so much out there for me to learn.

I truly enjoy learning. It’s an ongoing journey, with no end in sight. It requires an open mind, a thirst for knowledge, and intellectual curiosity. Adding a great dose of vulnerability to the mix makes the learning journey even more enjoyable.


Here’s another story about vulnerable leadership from my colleague Jennifer Buckley.

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Topics: For Organizations

About the author

Sylvain Beauséjour, VP Talent and Culture at Dialogue, is driven by a personal mission, that of making a difference in the development and success of people. Over the past thirty years, he has built his career in HR in the healthcare sector, navigating through multiple organizational challenges. He is fascinated by the importance of corporate culture, human behaviors, and the critical role that leaders play in organizations.