Brené Brown is an American scholar, author, public speaker and currently a research professor at the University of Houston. He has devoted the last 15 years to conduct research on vulnerability, courage, shame and empathy.

According to Brown’s years of research, “vulnerability” is what connects people. Being vulnerable is being open to harm, attack or damage. What keeps people in your organization from connecting?

Brown believes shame keeps people from connecting. Shame is when you don’t feel that you’re good enough, smart enough, thin enough, likeable enough or promoted enough. Shame can keep people from connecting with their employer, co-workers, clients or family members.

Strength or Weakness

Being vulnerable is being open to harm, attack or damage. Being open is allowing others the opportunity to hurt your feelings, attack you for what you said, did or didn’t do without derailing you or the relationship. In other words, someone who is vulnerable is approachable, coachable, teachable, relational, and above all else is emotionally stable enough to handle criticism and congratulations equally.

Each year around the holidays, I attend a few company parties. For some reason the three parties I attended this year were very different from those I’ve attended in the past because there were tears.

Past parties focused on the past years successes but this year the focus was on deep appreciation. When I say deep appreciation I mean speakers who couldn’t hold back the tears as they talked about what people did and how the company would not be where it is if not for the people.

Being sincerely appreciative is being vulnerable and being vulnerable connects people. People who don’t feel worthy of connecting with others, tend to put up walls. For example people who can’t connect with others display some or all the following characteristics:

  • Distant
  • Blame
  • Critical
  • Proud
  • Fearful
  • Angry
  • Distrustful

What can a manager do when he or she sees potential in an employee who has surrounded themselves with walls? The best way to tear them down is for the manager to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is part of being a good leader and it’s the one thing that connects people during the good times and bad. Connecting people by sharing successes will fail over time. No matter the success, no matter the bonus, no matter the “thing,” we all know that things will change.

One Constant

Think of your business or the business you work for as a community rather than a business. When you think community, what comes to mind?  What’s the difference between a community and a business? A community is a unified body of individuals, whereas a business is a means of livelihood.

The one thing a community and a business have in common is that both are comprised of people. The age old problem business consultants have been trying to solve for employers has been, “How do we get people to unite, to buy in and commit to a company’s goals and objectives?”

The suggested solution to this age-old problem has been and still is develop a mission statement and a set of core values used to guide the company and its people. Said differently, as a means to our livelihood, businesses should develop a mission statement and a set of core values that everyone will buy into.

Although there was a time when I was a proponent of mission statements, I now decline these sorts of projects because I don’t believe mission statements make a real and lasting difference. I’ve come to the conclusion that building community within a business solves the age-old problem of unifying people.

One way to kick off community building is to establish a focus group whose sole purpose is to develop a strong community within a business. In other words, what ideas can a focus group come up with that will move the company from just being a business to a community of people within a business?

In order for this to happen, community members must be vulnerable, meaning they must be open to constructive criticism. The question is whether or not members feel good enough, confident enough, smart enough, or whatever enough.

Giving Effective Criticism

What is constructive criticism and how do you give constructive criticism? The word “constructive” means helping develop or improve something or someone. Criticism is easy to take when you know it’s being done in your best interests.

If you’re a manager and your goal is to hurt someone rather than help, it’s likely that your either angry or have given up on the employee. The first rule in giving constructive criticism is not to give it if you’re angry or upset. Below are the basics in giving constructive criticism:

  • Positively intended and motivated
  • Specific
  • Objective (dealing with facts—
  • not personal feelings)
  • Constructive

Receiving Effective Criticism

I’ve learned over the years that everyone comes to work with some sort of baggage. After all we’re just kids who became adults, and we’ve all had different upbringings and experiences in the process of growing up.

The enemies of constructive criticism are people who don’t feel good, smart, likeable, happy enough or whatever enough to receive it and they won’t, until they learn to trust that the person giving it has the recipients best interests at heart.

If you’re someone who doesn’t feel good enough, smart enough, or likable enough, understand that the “not-good-enough” baggage you carry will derail you when someone offers constructive criticism. It’s likely that you will either overreact, or underreact, because that’s how you’ve always reacted to criticism even if it’s:

  • Constructive (for the purpose of helping you improve)
  • Positively motivated (having good intentions)
  • Specific (identifies one or two things that you can improve)
  • Objective (factual not based on feelings)


If vulnerability connects us better than anything else, makes us better people, better managers, better CEO’s, why not use vulnerability to build community?

Criticism has multiple meanings. The common meaning we are most familiar with is that criticism is the act of criticizing usually unfavorably. However, there is another definition that aligns with the goal of creating community through vulnerability. Criticism is the art of evaluating and analyzing. In other words, ‘asking what’s wrong with your idea, plan, budget, schedule, expansion or business plan is actually a process in evaluating or analyzing each. People just need to learn the steps in giving constructive criticism.

One of the things I have to constantly keep in mind is the future because in our industry most contractors are concerned about today or the very short term. In other words, I have to think about what is likely to happen, change or become rather than focusing on what is happening now. Said differently, what does the future look like for this job, team, client, plan, idea or the industry, and then try to advise my client the best I can.

According to an excellent Forbes magazine article, Jamie Gutfriend of CAA’s Intelligence Group says that, “… smart organizations are adjusting to the unique style of the millennial generation,” ages 20 to 35. In addition, Gutfriend says, “It’s in every organization’s interest to learn to how attract and reach and motivate millennials. A few do it well—but most don’t, and they soon may pay a price.”

The key to getting the most out of millennials is to understand that 88 percent of them prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.