In recent years, much has been written on the topic of vulnerable leadership – and it’s exciting. I believe we’re finally reaching a point where vulnerability is no longer a taboo subject in corporate culture. Rather it’s increasingly being viewed as a positive attribute for leaders and HR to embrace.

Yet, even with more conversation being had around the topic of vulnerability, there still seems to be an inability or unwillingness for many people and leaders to “take the mask off” at work.

And when there’s a lack of vulnerability at work, we inevitably hinder innovation and growth.

After all, vulnerability is the driving force of connection – and it’s the prerequisite for learning. By saying “I don’t know” or asking questions you open yourself up to new solutions and possibilities. When we’re truly vulnerable, we’re able to adopt a growth mindset, which is especially critical in today’s rapidly changing work world.

Yet, I’ll be the first to admit, that adopting a growth mindset can be really scary. Moving out of our comfort zone can heighten the fear of failure. For example, when I was 17, I was in charge of taking 6 girls on a 13-day canoe trip through the Algonquin Park. At one point during the trip, I was responsible for carrying a Grumman canoe, which is about 80 pounds, waterlogged, on my neck for a 6KM walk from one part of the park to another.

Let me tell you, that day, I wasn’t just feeling the weight of the heavy canoe. I was feeling the weight of fear. I was far out of my comfort zone. I didn’t think I could do it. At first, I moaned, groaned, and complained. But eventually, I realized that the only person that was going to save me was me. And I had a little chat with myself and made a pivotal decision. I shifted my mindset from “I can’t” to “I can” and “I will.”

I carry the pride I had in myself to this day, and channel it in my hardest moments. And my hope is that you alongside your company foster this same kind of thinking.

But in a recent PwC report, only 35% of respondents say that their manager tolerates small-scale failures. Nearly two-thirds of the workforce stated they aren’t ready to make any plans to prepare for the future of work as a result. [1]

Unfortunately, the fear of failure is still holding back many people from making necessary changes in the workplace. There are still companies discouraging people from taking healthy risks or disagreeing with the status quo – all necessary actions for nurturing creativity, innovation and resilience at work.

And this can have severe consequences on wellbeing. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Norwest Venture Partners, 90% of CEOs “admit fear of failure keeps them up at night more than any other concern.” [2]

But change in HR is happening now – and accelerating. I remember when we hosted a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and Chief People Officer (CPO) breakfast, one of the participants noted that, with all the new trends in AI, one day there will be a new position called “Chief Human Resources and Machine Officer.” To me, this is an important reminder of how we will truly need to rethink roles in the future of work.

And this can only be done when we stop admonishing failure and embrace fear and vulnerability.

Let me share a simple trick I use when fear comes up for me. I imagine fear as a little gremlin that’s perched on my shoulder. (You may remember the 1980s movie Gremlins which was a classic in my childhood. If you don’t know what a gremlin is, then picture fear as a little monster.) Then I say, “Stop that! I see you and while I empathize with myself and accept that you’re here [because fear is always going to be with us], I can’t let you get in my way. You be quiet now. You are not serving me.”

Then I look forward and keep it moving.

Once we do that, we can then let go of what’s not helping us and be more vulnerable leaders. Vulnerable leaders and people are open, courageous, honest and authentic. Specifically in the context of learning, they identify their own skills gaps and address it. As lifelong learners, they’re more likely to thrive in the face of uncertainty and future unknowns.

“Nothing gets done if we’re not brave enough to take the first step.”  – Reshma Saujani [paraphrased from Girl Code]

HR professionals now is not the time to shrink back and passively watch on as events unfold and AI transforms the work landscape. Rather, it’s HR’s time to meet the moment and lead their workplaces into the future. Choosing to be vulnerable must be top of mind – seeking out new solutions, learning and growing and adopting a future-ready attitude must be paramount.

If fear is holding you back from evolving your HR practice, I invite you to take the first step by joining HR Tomorrow happening on August 24 in Toronto and on September 19 in London. Whether this is your first step or one of many steps in your lifelong learning journey, this is your chance to allow yourself to be curious, ask honest questions (we even have pre-event online community channels) and learn and gain new insights from top experts about the present and on the horizon HR and business challenges impacting the future of work. You’ll come out of this event with a future-proof HR practice, strategy and mindset ready to tackle whatever lies ahead.

Today, I encourage you to be willing to be a little braver and climb a new ladder with an open heart and mind for a more prepared future.

Visit HR Tomorrow, to learn more.


[1] PwC 2023 Report: Is your workforce reinvention ready?

[2] Norwest Venture Partners: Every great journey has a few detours

[3] HR Tomorrow

Jodi Kovitz, (She, Her), Chief Executive Officer