HomeFuture of WorkBusiness TransformationThe Vulnerability Mountain: A framework for developing vulnerable leaders

The Vulnerability Mountain: A framework for developing vulnerable leaders

  • 5 Min Read

Jacob Morgan continues his study of vulnerable leadership on HRD Connect with a presentation of ‘The Vulnerability Mountain,’ a framework HR and L&D leaders can use for developing leaders capable of navigating change, driving innovation, and delivering productivity

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The cover of my book, Leading With Vulnerability, is very symbolic. Vulnerability is the feeling you get when you can be either emotionally or physically harmed. The cover features someone getting ready to climb a mountain with a heart-shaped backpack. The symbol of vulnerability is the heart, and the mountain is the journey that all leaders must go on.

At first, the climb will be easy but then it becomes more challenging. As your leaders stop at various vistas along the way to rest, they will meet other people who are on the same journey. The higher they climb, the more beautiful the view. The farther out they will be able to see, the more clarity they will get, the more connections and relationships they will be able to build with those around them, and the more of an impact they will be able to have.

This is an ongoing journey filled with twists and turns, danger, and potential loss, but most importantly learning, growth, and transformation for yourself and those around you. It’s not an easy journey to go on but it’s worth it. And for you and your organization’s leaders, it’s required.

The Vulnerability Mountain

As I wrote in a previous post on The Vulnerable Leader Equation, a vulnerable leader is a leader who intentionally opens themselves up to the potential of emotional harm while taking action (when possible) to create a positive outcome.

But how do you develop vulnerable leaders?

Everyone’s got a different idea of what counts as being vulnerable, and we all have different comfort levels when it comes to showing it.

Vulnerability should be step-by-step

If you’re dealing with a leader who wants to be open and honest about their weak spots, they’ve got to know where to start and which way to go. Imagine someone who’s always kept things close to the chest at work, and then one day, after reading this book, they just spill all their deepest, scariest secrets. That’s probably going to create a mess, not help things.

The journey to leading with vulnerability needs to be taken step by step. No need for sudden overhauls – just a steady reveal that helps you, and everyone around you, handle it better.

One of the frameworks I have in my book is The Vulnerability Mountain.

The Vulnerability Mountain, Jacob Morgan
The Vulnerability Mountain, Jacob Morgan

Think of it like this: your leaders are standing at the foot of a mountain. The easy steps they can take today are right here at the base. The higher they climb, the tougher it gets. So, right now, at the bottom, you might encourage them to start by asking for help or giving their teammate a well-deserved shout-out. But as they move up, they’ll face trickier tasks like admitting their mistakes or discussing personal challenges.

The harder it gets, the more valuable it becomes

Every time you push them to climb a bit higher, they will gain a clearer perspective. It’s like a hike: there are spots where you take a breather, maybe camp out for a bit. Encourage them to look around – there are others on this journey with them, taking the same steps. Sometimes, they might take a wrong turn and need to backtrack a little to find a better path. But remember, climbing the The Vulnerability Mountain is part of their ongoing leadership adventure. The more they climb, the stronger their relationships grow, the clearer things become, and the more breathtaking the view gets.

Share this advice from Deb Cupp, the President of Microsoft North America, who’s climbed her share of mountains:

“When the going gets tough and the climb gets steep, you’ve just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Focus on what you can control and do the work. Sure, being vulnerable can be tough, but it pays off big time.

“When you show your human side, it lets people connect with you better and encourages them to be their real selves at work. That’s great for the team and the business. The climb might be full of twists and turns, but it’s part of the package when you become a leader.

“It’s hard work, but you, your team, and your organization are worth it.”

Taking the first step on The Vulnerability Mountain

What’s at the base for one person could be way up high for another. So, take a moment and ask your team two questions.

  1. What are you ready to be vulnerable about right now? It might be something that scares you a bit, but you know you can manage it.
  2. What makes you feel most vulnerable and why? This is the question I put to over 100 CEOs.

These answers will give you a good sense of where to start your climb.

Remember, it’s your responsibility to encourage your leaders to take the first step. Don’t have them try to climb The Vulnerability Mountain alone. Invite your team of leaders to join them on the journey. They’re there for you, and you’re there for them.

I’ll see you on the mountain.


Jacob Morgan is the international bestselling author of 5 books including his most recent, Leading With Vulnerability, which is based on over 100 CEO interviews and a survey of 14,000 employees. Vulnerability for leaders is not the same as it is for everyone else so then how should leaders approach vulnerability in the right way to unlock the potential of others, drive performance, and create trust? In Jacob’s groundbreaking new book, he shares why you should lead with vulnerability and how to do it. You can learn more at LeadWithVulnerability.com. Jacob is also the host of Great Leadership With Jacob Morgan which is one of the world’s top leadership podcasts.

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