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True Leaders Need Connection, Vulnerability, Courage, Gratitude And Authenticity

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True Leaders Need Connection, Vulnerability, Courage, Gratitude And Authenticity

Why should true leaders display Vulnerability, Courage, Gratitude and Authenticity? Who in their right mind would allow others to know that they are vulnerable? Well on the night of his second US Presidential Election, POTUS Barack Obama showed his vulnerability by declaring his love for his wife Michelle in front of the whole world. Vulnerability is one of the many factors that got him re-elected. Women in particular respond to this, with the majority of women voting for Obama.

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True Leaders are all about Connection

Connection is intrinsic to everyone, without connection we cannot live. Connection brings meaning and purpose to our lives. Without connection we as people cannot survive. We fear disconnection; deep down inside it is our greatest fear. Our fear is that something we have done during our lives is so shameful that this will cause disconnection from our loved ones. Only psychopaths can survive without connection. A True Leader will have the ability to connect with people in abundance.

True Leaders are all about Vulnerability

We have all heard that voice in our heads, our ego, saying you are not good enough! If we get past that, the next question is, who do you think you are? The majority of C-Suite executives in America were polled and their greatest fear was they would get found out.  They believed they were not good enough to hold the high powered position they had worked up to.

Accepting your Vulnerability is fundamental to you as a person. Brene Brown in her TED Talk speaks of how Vulnerability is the birth place of Joy, Creativity, Belonging and Love. By accepting that you are enough, by ignoring your ego. Accepting our own faults and failings we listen better and our authenticity shines through. We become far better leaders for our authenticity and vulnerability.

True Leaders are all about Courage

Courage to be imperfect, courage to be vulnerable, just like Obama on election night. Courage means from the heart. Courage to be compassionate to ourselves, because if we cannot be compassionate to ourselves how can we be compassionate to others. If we are not compassionate how can we have connection or have empathy with other people. An understanding for others’ strengths and weaknesses is paramount to a leader. How can you do this if you have not got the courage to accept your own imperfections?

True Leaders are all about Gratitude

I wrote a few years back that Gratitude is one of the Universal Powers. Gratitude if practised every day helps you to remain grounded to your beliefs and values. You do not lose touch with your courage or your compassion. By having an Attitude of Gratitude as part of your daily routine it helps you to be accepting of what is going on around you. Both the things you can control and those you cannot.

True Leaders are all about Authenticity

Authenticity shines through like a beacon and people see this. Richard Branson is a living example of how to remain authentic in business. When you hear him speak he remains congruent to his values and principles. This is a very difficult thing to achieve but the true leaders do so intrinsically. Nelson Mandela, despite his time on Robin Island, never let his ego dictate how he dealt with the “White Minority” after he was released. In fact it made him all the more courageous as his compassion to them was incredible and his Authenticity shone brightly.

What is actually happening in today’s world?

In referring to Brene Browns TED Talk earlier she also says that we “Numb” ourselves so we cannot feel emotions. Americans today are the most indebted, obese, addicted and medicated generation in American history. It is a similar story here in Ireland. We want to block the trails and tribulations of everyday life. So we “Numb” them with food, drink, drugs and over spending.

The difficulty with that is we also block, joy, love, gratitude and happiness when we “Numb”. The “Numbing” process also brings another difficulty, we want to make everything certain. We want to blame everybody else for everything that is wrong with our lives. The right wing politics in America is evidence of this, I am right you are wrong, now shut the f**k up. This is a way to discharge pain and discomfort and we pretend that what we do does not impact on others.


People need Leadership, something sadly lacking in Ireland. What I wouldn’t give for a person to stand up like Obama did two weeks ago and proclaim loudly, I am vulnerable and I am happy. Today’s Leader needs all the above attributes and when he/she gets this right the resulting community will run through “Brick Walls” to work for this Leader. By understanding vulnerability, courage, gratitude and authenticity you become the photo fit of the True Leader. Do you agree?

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Images:  ”Diagram of leadership qualities /

Co-Founder at the Ahain Group. The first blogger to name the MDEC Model. A social business enthusiast and looking to learn something new every day. Which is not difficult to find online. Keen golfer and Munster Rugby supporter.

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  • Hi John

    I think the choice of the word vulnerable is not an apt one here in the context that you have used it. It has entirely negative meanings – open to being attacked, unable to withstand hostile environments – and many other negative connotations. To love is human and of course to love makes you vulnerable. But love confers so much than vulnerability. It can also make you strong. Vulnerable is an odd word to describe Obama’s declaration of love, it just simply shows his humanity, but does not display weakness and certainly not vulnerability in the true sense.

    However I agree with many of the other qualities that you have identified with true leaders.

    ~ Helen

  • Philip Galligan

    Hi John
    A very good article however I have to agree with Helen Cousins. Humanity is a better descriptive and more broadly defined than vulnerability. Sadly humanity is very lacking in today’s leaders at all levels of society. True leaders that meet the criteria listed are very rare. Many leaders today appear as greedy, egoistical, and autocratic.
    We have passed the phase of the “charismatic” leaders who lacked any substance or humility to a mix of autocrats and some enlightened leaders. In the light of recent history a more humble leadership style is required. Authenticity is vital. People are rightly skeptical.
    I think people are too dependent on leadership and we must take responsibility for our own choices of leaders. In Ireland we have too many greedy and egoistical leaders who thrive by promoting fear and too few leaders with he qualities outlined in your article. Let us hope for all our sake that a more enlightened leadership comes to the fore urgently.

  • John Twohig

    Thanks for the comments Helen. Vulnerability is seen as weakness, it takes a brave person in today’s society who exposes their vulnerability in public. I disagree with your comment that Obama’s love declaration did not expose his vulnerability and at no time have I equated vulnerability with weakness on Obama’s part, if fact the opposite is the case, it took bravery. Brene Brown has backed up her assertion about vulnerability with years of research, see the above link. Her claim that it is the birth place of Love. I agree that it also showed humanity and increased his connection with his community:)

  • Christina Giliberti

    I believe that John is referring to vulnerability as something which is open to emotional harm. I agree, that by being honest about our emotions, it can be percieved as a vulnerability to others, YET John’s post uncovers how this fear of the negative side (as you aptly put Helen) prevents us from being true leaders. Obama doesn’t hesitate when declaring his humanity, despite the fact that others would refraim from such ouvert emotional displays. To him, I would say, he sees it as a strength as opposed to a vulnerability or weakness. Perhaps therein lies the difference!

  • John Twohig

    Thanks Philip, the link on the post to Brene Browns TED Talk shows her work on vulnerability. It is very interesting and explains the results of her research which was extensive. I accept that out leaders also lack humanity, see the present case of the Governments treatment of the sad case in Galway.

  • John Twohig

    Thanks Tina, got it in one…..

  • Hi John,

    Loved your article and can definitely relate to it… I recently shared my views on “what leaders need to do to foster high performing, engaged teams”; and my views on that resonate with what you wrote in your piece… sharing part of my comments….

    I will share what I have personally practiced as a leader, coach and trainer for leaders. I like to see it as the transformational role of a leader in two dimensions:

    1. Self Mastery – I have personally experienced and observed a common trait of high performing, highly engaged teams – and its not so much about the teams – its about their leader. Most successful leaders that I have worked with or seen, have been those who have had the courage to be authentic. This reflects in their words and actions – right from aspects of communicating directly (the good news and the bad), not just being empathetic – but being equally vulnerable (some of us cant connect with leaders who seem “superhuman”).

    2. Interpersonal Mastery – two elements of leadership that have worked great for me in this context are – being connected and establishing a shared vision. Being connected with your team members – officially and unofficially – knowing the names of their kids, the projects they are working on, the stakeholders bothering them, the accolades they got when you weren’t around – all of these establish a feeling of “being wanted” and the fact that we care about the team.

    Establishing a shared vision is one of the greatest gift a leader can give his team. This goes way beyond just driving their engagement and their productivity. I have seen this create an atmosphere of excitement, action, cohesiveness and above all – a chase fro something larger than individual priorities. I have seen great leaders not just establish a compelling shared vision, but constantly reiterating it – using analogies of day to day work to link to it – making it the team “mantra”.

    These are just some of the things that I have personally implemented and benefited from.

    Finally, I don’t believe that a leader can take a “initiative” to get people engaged and productive – its got to be the way the leader operated with the team – Its not one initiative or event – it is the philosophy and the style of the leader that established team performance and engagement.

  • John Twohig

    Thank you Gatik for sharing. I agree with all you said and what you are referring to largely is, “Intrinsic Motivation”. Great leaders tap into the intrinsic motivation of their people. Empowering the following, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in the individual members and facilitating the individuals becoming a powerful team. Any leader that gets this right will find the results are startling.

  • John,

    Fantastic article. I can related to all the points you mentioned with regard to Leadership. I’ve seen John Maxwell talk a lot about vulnerability when talking about leadership (I think in the Leadership Gold book he spoke more about it.)

    Courage, authenticity and gratitude, accountability and communication are some of the top quality of great leaders. I just happened to stumble upon your website, but I am glad I did. Thank you for sharing. I will visit you again.

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