https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2016/05/20/in-praise-of-vulnerability/

In praise of vulnerability

Head and shoulders shot of Clare Moriarty
Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary, Defra

Vulnerability may not be the first quality that comes to mind when you think about strong leadership. In reality, we’re all vulnerable, but more often than not we spend our time trying to hide our vulnerable side. Here’s why I think that should change.

There are all sorts of reasons why I might not want to appear vulnerable. Talking about my feelings – particularly of frustration, disappointment or anxiety – could diminish me in the eyes of others. Talking about things that went wrong might lead people to think that I’m not up to my job. Even talking about our families can be difficult if they’re not of the traditional nuclear variety, or if home life is dominated by teenage boundary-testing.

It can feel hard to expose what might be considered weaknesses when there’s so much pressure on us to be strong. But for me, they are signs of humanity. They make us who we are and enable people to empathise and work with us.

'Check-in'

Sharing information about our whole selves is also fundamental to building trust. That’s why I’ve introduced the practice of ‘check-in’. Every meeting and workshop starts with each person sharing one thing that’s on their mind in their work life, and one in their personal life. It helps us to know how other people are feeling, and where they might need some support – and makes us more effective as a top team.

Some people just don’t want to talk about this stuff. But for many of us, it’s not as clear-cut as that. I’m generally pretty open about my feelings and happy to talk about the downs as well as the ups of my career. In some situations, though, I find myself adopting a closed approach. It’s not related to the size of the audience or the type of occasion. It almost always comes down to the ‘feel’ of the room – is it warm? Is there trust? Do I feel supported?

So now, when others are reluctant to share and make themselves vulnerable, I always ask myself whether I can do more to make it feel comfortable for them to do so. As leaders, we set the tone for our teams. I want people to bring their whole selves to work and to feel supported and empowered when they do. And I see it as my job to make that happen.

Break the stigma

In the Defra group, we recently ran a campaign to encourage people to complete diversity, information. I, and other senior leaders, blogged about ourselves and our families, sharing some pretty personal stuff. Even I was surprised by the impact that had. People told me it’s made them more willing to share their own information, and to be themselves at work.  Declaration rates for sexual orientation and disability increased by 11 percentage points.

The issue that people can feel most reluctant to talk about is mental health. Defra’s mental health support network is called Break the Stigma for a reason. But we know that ignoring the early signs is very likely to mean that problems get worse. We need to break that cycle and make it a positive to talk about stress. That’s only going to happen if everyone is prepared to make themselves vulnerable. So, what are you waiting for?

[Because of the level of interest and comment generated by this blog post, Clare Moriarty has written again to address some of the questions you have raised. You can read her response here.]

55 comments

  1. Comment by Nick S posted on

    Great to hear this, thanks Clare - we're just starting to explore some of these issues in my organisation ourselves.

  2. Comment by Lol posted on

    Why would you want people to declare things like a disability? If people are afraid they are afraid. Risk aversion is a natural state of being.

    • Replies to Lol>

      Comment by Walter Scott posted on

      Lol, you ask a fair question, but in my experience fear is often based on the unknown or a suspicion that something negative will follow. Fear can be based on the prospect of being recognised as different from the rest of the pack. By declaring a disability, you:
      Remove the unknown
      Enable others to make a more rational and informed judgement about you
      Pave the way for others to stand up and also be counted as different
      Enable those offering support or advice to provide what they can provide
      Remove the psychological pressure of hiding something
      Lure any stigma out into the open field (whereupon it can, if necessary, be booted in touch - or, at the very least, knocked around a bit)
      Present 'disability' as something which is usually not about being 'less able' but about being different, with different strengths, and therefore something of which you can be proud: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/real-life/sergeant-major-who-highest-ranking-6232478#0ECUSPCsmj2h1FKh.97

      • Replies to Walter Scott>

        Comment by KEM posted on

        I did declare that I have a learning disability on top of another disability. The support was to hand me an early retirement package which I did refuse it was most stressful. I have coped with my learning disability for many years in the civil service and found coping methods and adjustments to enable me to work successfully.

        • Replies to KEM>

          Comment by Rosie Anderson posted on

          Clare,
          I wish there were more managers were like you!
          I've had varying experiences since I declared my disability 9 years ago.
          Unfortunately, I have now been edged down the ill-health retirement route.
          I believe you are only seen as good as your last error, regardless of any good efforts and achievements you made. Sorry to be so negative!

  3. Comment by Jon B posted on

    Claire I love that you can share but very workshop involves everyone sharing something personal. What if they don't want to ? What if work is their oasis? I have a multitude of diffiiiiicult situations I share with my colleagues ut I am not pressured to do so. Where does interest become intrusion?

    • Replies to Jon B>

      Comment by Paul S posted on

      I completely agree with Jon B's comment. I'm afraid I think that most of my personal affairs are no concern of (and probably of no interest to) my colleagues. If I like them and trust them, I may choose to discuss personal issues with individual colleagues, but generally speaking I regard these things as either too private or too mundane for wider exposure. If other people want to do it, fine, but any whiff of compulsion and I'm out of there...

      • Replies to Paul S>

        Comment by Moj posted on

        I agree with Jon B, Paul S and Anon2 - Personal issues/challenges/difficulties are personal!
        The modern day workplace does not truly care what your personal issues are; what really matters to them is meeting business need PERIOD!
        If you have a disability or personal situation which slightly impacts on your ability to deliver like a 'whiz kid', your performance rating takes the hit - thus adding more to your stress.
        In my time in the civil service, individual differences are not being taken into consideration. They expect every employee to fit into a single box both in terms of skill-set, behaviours, level of fitness, age, etc. It is a one fits all approach!
        So why will anyone want to share their issues in the workplace just to add more to their life challenges.

  4. Comment by David Hopkins posted on

    The talks by Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame are fantastic, and strongly recommended. You can find them on TED Talks and YouTube.

  5. Comment by Dorothy posted on

    Clare,

    This is an interesting subject, but a very odd circle to even try and square.
    How does one go about encouraging people to share information about themselves in an open forum on one hand, and on the other hand then promise to protect their personal data and information?
    From a Data Protection point of view, one should always be careful of anything that allows 'free text' as you don't know what response you are going to get in it.

    The mind boggles as to the responses you could get from the approaches you are advocating. What safety systems to you have in place to ensure that personal data revealed in your forums do not go any further?

    • Replies to Dorothy>

      Comment by Lynne posted on

      I have worked in the civil service for 20 years and have never felt any need or desire to discuss my home life or personal problems with colleagues. When I have experienced sadness in my personal life I have found work to be an oasis where I could leave problems at home and get on with my work and career. I may seem harsh but I am really not interested in my colleagues personal lives or what they do out of work, I am interested in how we work together and how professional we are. I have close friends at work who I see socialise with and in our free time we share our experiences and feelings but I just do not think there is any benefit if bringing this into the workplace.

  6. Comment by Becks posted on

    This struck a chord in me. I recently secured a position within the senior management team. I went from a person on the 'shop floor /coal face ' to the inner sanctum, quite literally over night.

    I find that my leadership style is grounded in my own honesty about my strengths and shortcomings. I feel at my best when I am not pretending to be strong. I think my job is to bring out the best in others and I can't do that if I am self- conscious.

    But I am. I am very self -conscious. Little comments like "you went from that role to this role"-- incredulous at the jump because I bypassed several tiers in between. "How much do you earn?" I don't get this from my colleagues at the "coal face" but I get that from my new set of colleagues, my peers.

    Am I not delivering? Am I not effective? Am I not worth the money?

    No, I am, I am worth it. I can demonstrate my value but it frustrates me that the people I expect to get my support from are the ones who stifle me. I recharge my batteries by going back to the "shop floor" where my actions speak for themselves.

    So I hope people read this article and think about how our vulnerability makes us accessible, and if we achieve success with our vulnerabilities showing then it could inspire others to take that journey too.

    And if you are at the top and somebody makes that leap... Make them a cuppa tea; invite them to grab some lunch; check in.

  7. Comment by Martin posted on

    Clare. What you say really resonates with me. In BIS we are working to show the same openness and try to build the trust we need if we are to be really effective as a team. And if we are leaders we have to take the first step in showing our own vulnerabilities- and also what matters to us outside work, from family to hobbies.
    And people then find role models and support across the organisation because others have similar experiences. We just need to find out about them. Yesterday we had a great session on the significance of Ramadan led by our Muslim network , making us aware of what colleagues will be doing from early June when Ramadan begins.

  8. Comment by Pauline Thomas posted on

    I agree that showing you are vulnerable can let people see that you are human. However, some people think it shows you are weak. I did share some of my personal life with my staff who then supported me when I needed time off. Unfortunately the same could not be said for my manager at the time and by completing an ACC1 due to stress, I was then classed as 'weak' not given any support and as a result ended up with a Must Improve marking. This was 2 years ago so hopefully things may improve but I am still very careful about what information I share with whom.

  9. Comment by Stephen Walsh posted on

    How about restricting meetings and workshops etc.. to discussion of the subjects they were called for?. I am tired of this 'sharing' garbage where everyone has to talk endlessly about their lives, feelings, hopes and dreams for the future etc..It started with the pointless and embarrassing 'Icebreakers' at training courses and has steadily got worse. I have no intention of revealing anything about my personal life in the workplace and have zero interest in listening to details of anyone else's.

  10. Comment by Penguin posted on

    This is a very interesting topic. I would question how would one go about making a sweeping change such as encouraging people to freely open up about emotional difficulties. Especially as culturally in the UK we have been conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, never cry in front of others, keep soldiering on, and so forth. This is bigger than just the workplace, it's a way of living and surviving that has been passed down, taught, and indoctrinated through generations, and is firmly set in our cultural psyche. A method of coping with life that may take time, even subsequent generations, to undo.

  11. Comment by Debbie Urquhart Cannon posted on

    Clare, I really admire your approach and your honesty, particularly as you have achieved such a senior position while doing this. I think it would be a wonderful environment where you could be open about what's bothering you/what makes you vulnerable, but in reality I just don't think that is practical or would be welcome in the majority of workplaces. There would have to be a huge amount of trust that people would respect and keep private anything that was said. I can be open about most things in my own (small team) but I wouldn't share wider - I know from experience of admitting some difficult personal circumstances to one manager, how it ended up becoming wider knowledge - to the extent where in one interview for a promotion I was asked a quite personal question I now know was not asked of other candidates. Perhaps there needs to be more people like you in senior positions before we can start to feel confident about opening up about vulnerabilities without fear that it will impact our working lives.

  12. Comment by Amanda posted on

    As a human being bound to other unrelated human beings for many years in my career as a civil servant it would be lovely to think you could show your vulnerability through the ups and downs of your life, health, personal relationships at home, life events etc. The reality is there are many unscrupulous people out there who would use your vulnerability against you to either to gain an advantage over you or make themselves seem more efficient in their role. I know this because I am a TU rep and have to defend vulnerable members of staff all the time. There are a lot of decent, well meaning people out there who do care (and show it) in the way they deal with others but until we get rid of the superiority complex that some people (often in positions of power over others) have, I don't blame anyone for being cautious about who they reveal their vulnerability to.

  13. Comment by Steve Lintern posted on

    Can't fault the idea behind this, Clare. My view is that it has become the norm in our culture, especially the work culture, to never admit a mistake. People seem afraid to show that they didn't get everything right first time, that they learnt something new along the way. In my experience, that can feel like you're talking to a robot. It's alienating and doesn't create empathy: I know I'm not perfect and if the person I'm speaking to is perfect, I wonder what I could possibly have in common with them. Conversely, the minute someone admits a mistake, shows vulnerability, asks for help, you relax. You know you're in the company of a fellow human being who you can share with and learn from.

  14. Comment by Parv posted on

    When we share we learn. I have a disability. Is that something tobe a shamed of ? What share we share is down to you on a personal level.

  15. Comment by Karen P posted on

    What a brilliant idea, talking to each other and sharing how we feel on a certain day. This could explain why that girl always looks miserable or that man always talks too loud. Being able to say to your colleagues (your support network) today is a bad day because should allow each of us a little more leeway when things are stretched. The problems come when those feelings are used as weapons by our more unscrupulous work mates to score points or the negative aspects are promoted over the positive.

  16. Comment by Dave posted on

    Claire, I completely understand your situation, however, there is still the stigma that when one exposes their vunerabilities it is fear that they are allowing their peers or managers to exploit those areas which we keep hidden. In my experience these things are sometimes used to support inaccurate statements and comments on ones's ability rather than the other positives which may abound, or am I just being cynical due to my past experiences.

  17. Comment by Dayo O posted on

    Clare, I like your statement on the benefits of Leaders being vulnerable and how we should see this as a sign of strength rather than weakness, as it is often considered. Thanks for highlighting this.

  18. Comment by Min posted on

    This would be another form of creeping death for me. I will happily chat to my colleagues and when you've worked with peole for a while they're more like friends anyway. I would absolutely hate to be expected to share something and would dread coming to meetings in those circumstances. As it is, at training events when they do the "tell your neighbour something about yourself" I try and think of the least interesting thing that I can...the number of people who know I like fairisle knitting must be legion now!

  19. Comment by Andrew Morton posted on

    'Sharing' at the beginning of workshops is the terror of many. I've never been able to get my head aroung it myself. Lets just get on with the workshop and do what we're there to do.

  20. Comment by Lea posted on

    I know that trust is so important in a team. When a team trust their manager and each other it can be awesome, the productivity rates flow up from there. The root of all engagement issues seems to be a lack of trust and time to actually be 'people' at work. I like this idea and thank you for sharing it Clare.

  21. Comment by Julian Harris posted on

    I have no evidence that most of my senior leaders have any feelings or personality at all
    There is a requirement to leave 90% of myself at the door.

    DVSA SNG Disability

  22. Comment by S posted on

    It's great that the stigma of mental health is being challenged in the civil service. I still feel there is some way to go (I would never tell anyone that I suffer from depression/anxiety and I never have in the past disclosed this to most people I work with). But I have in a previous department attended some short talks given out by various staff who want to discuss their mental/physical health condition. Would this be something that could be discussed or organised and who is the most appropriate pereson(s) to take this up with? I found it extremely interesting to listen to staff I had maybe seen around or knew of explain their condition and how it had affected their career, the challenges they had faced and how they had overcome them. It also gave me a far better understanding of health conditions I knew little about and contributed towards my learning and development/PDR.

    I wonder if anyone would be interested in contributing their own experiences (or maybe writing about it and having someone speak it on their behalf if they wanted to remain anonymous) and if it's something staff would be willing to attend?

  23. Comment by Catherine Watson posted on

    Clare, I really like this approach, thanks for sharing this

  24. Comment by annonymous posted on

    I suffer with Complex PTSD which contributes to my physical health issues, I have disclosed very sensitive perosnal information recently and have still been penalised, in theory yes the support is there, but in practice it is virtually impossible to get support or advocacy, as indidividual offices interperet procedures there own way. In turn it leaves a vulnerable individual like myself putting tougher barriers up and isolating myself further not allowing myself to express my feelings openly, as you lose trust and faith, which has happended and is continuing to happen as we speak, and I do also agree were work used to be distraction now it has also become a chore.

  25. Comment by Alison Bailey posted on

    Whitehall can feel increasingly impersonal. Challenges for many people have not gone away: they are just hidden because people feel that it will cost them their job during austerity if they admit in public to any kind of vulnerability, or difference. This 'austerity lid' put on needs and difference has a negative effect in lowering everyone's morale which, in its turn leads to difficulty retaining staff. When leaders and others share their vulnerability, it helps staff to be themselves, feel comfortable which increases general morale. The positive workplace also has a key role in supporting people with long term health conditions, with adjustment keeping them financially viable, giving them structure, hope, meaning and purpose. Otherwise they may join, through mounting sick leave, the 'missing millions' who could not keep their foothold in the workplace. If they feel that expressing difference in public is not going to lead to any kind of success, then they will create more stress for themselves and not help others disclose their need for reasonable adjustments, ultimately (possibly) keeping them in work and productive. If the successful share that they too have special needs, it proves that one can have needs, be different - and avoid failure.

  26. Comment by Peter Egan posted on

    No way! My personal life is just that-personal. If i choose to share with colleagues that is my choice but I do not wish to feel under any pressure to do so.

  27. Comment by Gerry posted on

    I would advise that everyone, managers especially, tread carefully here. There are a number of risks for individuals and the organisation in this approach, and there's no acknowledgement of this or indication of mitigation/assessment. Most of us aren't trained counsellors, and I come to work to work, not talk about my personal life. If I chose to do that, it would be with people I have come to trust and that I wanted to talk to because of who they were, not because I was a member of a particular group assembled for work activities. I certainly wouldn't do it because a manager asked me to.
    If someone in the forum doesn't want to share, you may say that's fine, but does that person then feel under pressure to take part next time, or excluded because they don't want to. At the same time, do colleagues actually want to hear about someone else's personal problems? What are the ground rules - what's off limits? The idea that this would be a natural or appropriate setting for "sharing" makes me feel uncomfortable and I can't imagine many wanting to go down this particular road.

  28. Comment by Hugh McPhilemy posted on

    I am profoundly deaf & wear two hearing aids,so it's obvious to everyone in the office that I cannot hear too well. However I refuse, point blank,to consider myself "disabled" & the thought of sitting in a group & discussing my "disablity" seems a complete waste of everybody's time.

  29. Comment by Rob posted on

    Thanks for sharing this with us Clare. It's opportune as a special friend said something similar to me only a few months ago. This friend told me that crying is a strength not a weakness yet until then I tended to think the latter. Sharing vulnerability can make others feel better as many of those vulnerabilities are more common than they think and it helps others when they know they are not alone.

  30. Comment by Felicity posted on

    This would fill me with dread to think I was at a meeting where people would share personal problems/difficulties and I would also be expected to contribute. I have an unseen disability but prefer to try and get on with my life as I did before I had the car accidents that caused me the health problems. I live near a weekly meeting for people with fibromylagia but can't imagine anything I would rather not do than sit and discuss my illness. I would rather get on with what I can do and enjoy life!

  31. Comment by Rob B posted on

    Well, I am not a manager but, okay, I admit it. I am vulnerable. The Reaper stands over my shoulder every day, and tells me clearly: Everything you have ever done, or will do, will have been in vain, a mere distraction, simple unadmitted despair and denial of the inescapable day that awaits.

  32. Comment by anon2 posted on

    I have found that if you nave a disability no quater will be given, unless you are one of the favoured ones.
    I would not be willing to discuss my complex health conditions with any one. It would be used to bully me and make my working life even worse.

  33. Comment by Kath posted on

    Clare - thanks for this. How refreshing that a very senior leader appreciates that we are a whole person, not just an employee. Hopefully this approach will eventually permeate across the whole of the Civil Service.

  34. Comment by Yenifer posted on

    Clare - Thank you for sharing your thoughts on The Power of Vulnerability. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

  35. Comment by Brian Gerrish posted on

    Dangerous psychological manipulation of people encouraging what should be personal to be made public. Once the little worries and personal secrets are out management is better placed to bully and intimidate - now a common pattern across government, public sector and especially the NHS. Either Clare Moriarty knows what she is doing or she has been duped by others.

  36. Comment by Lesley posted on

    I totally agree with Pauline Thomas. The very same thing has just happened to me. I have worked in the Civil Service for 10 years and have always been classed as a hard worker and was even told i should be a peer for others in my team by a HEO I have gone over and beyond what is expected of me by coming in early, working through my lunch and staying late during busy periods and coming in to do overtime when they have needed me. Is that good enough for my Manager? No, obviously not because i have just been given a must try harder box marking and will not be getting my bonus for the first time ever. All because i showed my vulnerable side recently. This does not inspire me to work harder as there is no incentive to do so.

  37. Comment by Anon posted on

    Claire, its refreshing to hear your views about bringing one's wholeself to work. However, I think there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done before people feel comfortable doing this. I recently brought my wholeself to work and used my whole life experience, in addition to many years of experience from outside of Defra dealing with similar matters in a similar way to inform a decision that would have significant impact on the life of a colleague, however, I was soon shot down and told this is not the way we deal with such maters here. I'm now being ushered towards the door for being different. Dare someone even think about sharing something personal that would set them aside from the norm.... I think not!

  38. Comment by Mumtaz posted on

    Clare- In my 25 years service as a Civil servant, I have never seen a brave person like you. I used to think that I am very brave, when talking to DWP customers who have somesort of health issues inspiring and motivating them, using my disability as an example, If I can be in full time job after having all these problem(mobility + heart conditions) why they can't change life style and learn to live independently. An eye opening subject you have touched. I also appreciate others view too, can understand where they are coming from.

  39. Comment by Julie Anderson posted on

    A) I agree that not everyone feels they want to 'share';
    B) If this is about leaders showing they're only human (like the rest of us) then all it requires is empathy: in a one-to-one space, where there is confidentiality;
    C) If there were less of an overall attitude of the middle managers being afraid to challenge the senior managers when (i) they know from the start something won't work (through experience); (ii) they feel safe to say there are issues which may not be resolvable; and (iii) can actually stand up and say, 'we got this wrong. How do you think it can be fixed?' it may be the 'weakness' which would be appreciable to show...

  40. Comment by Helen C posted on

    Great piece Clare. If you've not seen, you and others may be interested in the work of the Point of Care Foundation which run Schwartz Rounds in hospitals and hospices. These provide a space for people to think and talk about the emotional impact of caring. Organisations have found these a practical way of opening up a culture and making it feel more safe; and they need senior leadership to make them work.

  41. Comment by Alan Napier posted on

    Whilst admitting that I prefer to separate work-life from my private life (although they may and do intersect) from I think I would be rather more convinced by this blog if:
    a. it wasn't prefaced by the hackneyed quote from Freud;
    b. I didn't have the suspicion that the content reflects the latest trans-Atlantic management fad (cf Brene Brown), tht's come to the Civil Service's attention.

  42. Comment by Rob B posted on

    The debate here might be made clearer with reference to “business needs” and individual employees’ personal vulnerabilities. The former clearly takes precedence – after all, business is business. And a successful business is one that outlives all of its employees, be they managers or staff, be they more vulnerable or less vulnerable. Personal vulnerability in any employee, then, is necessarily inimical to business and might rightly be treated as so.

  43. Comment by David posted on

    A problem shared is a problem doubled.

  44. Comment by Bernard Devaney posted on

    Jolly interesting blog, Clare, which has clearly hit a nerve - well done!

    We've all got a long way to go, I'm sure, but articles like yours help us along this rocky road. God knows, I'm not perfect, and I blush to think of a team meeting I led about 15 years ago......

    I'd got all my managers together for some kind of briefing about the latest Disability Discrimination Act thingy. We talked earnestly about the need for sensitivity, understanding, being considerate, etc.

    One of my chaps stayed behind after the meeting and said "Bernard, we've been working together for two years, haven't we? You don't seem to be aware that I have a disability." "Errrr...no...." I replied, (thinking "what the hell can it be? Vertigo? Colour blind? Some mental thing? I've never paid any attention. What can he be on about?") "No, John, I've never noticed your...um....disability, but if you want to share it.....?"

    "Well, Bernard, everyone else in the team has spotted it" my colleague replied. "I've only got one arm!"

  45. Comment by CJE posted on

    The blog is well intentioned I’m sure and what is set out seems to work for Clare even though there are caveats. For me I think the Civil Service would need to change beyond recognition before employees will believe that exposing vulnerability will not do more harm than good.
    The CS has an outdated Performance Appraisal System that in my view accentuates the negative. The term, must improve, is not something any performance coach worth their salt would use (neither is, backsliding, from the managing absence gudiance, for that matter)The appraisal system and the way personal contribution is assessed need to change before we consider introducing what Clare sets out in her blog. I learned at a very early age, over 45 years ago, that by exposing vulnerability you leave yourself open to attack by people willing to exploit it to further their own agenda, whatever that might be.
    There are practical difficulties too; how could you be certain that the information would remain confidential within the constraints of the meeting? What about colleagues who manage to compartmentalise their personal and work lives, come to work, do a good job but would simply crumble at the thought of having to open up in the workspace about very challenging personal issues, or even saying no, when it comes to their turn? I’m also a little lost with regard to the purpose. Am I to expect colleagues who now know about personal challenges to make allowances of some kind for me, or perhaps laud me for my strength of character in keeping all the balls in the air?
    So, for example, I open the meeting with a statement like, “I’m not getting on with my partner, it’s awful at home and after 25 years I’m thinking of leaving but the timings not great, my oldest is in the last year of her exams…etc. etc…” What possible good can leaving that hanging in the ether of a meeting do, particularly of it is followed by another 7 such disclosures?
    I can understand that in certain types of environment the idea mooted might have value. What we need in the Civil Service is better appraisal and managing absence strategies and more empathic managers, at every level, who are able to see beyond covering their own backs and achieving targets, whatever the personal impact on the individuals who make up their teams. After 40 years and all the initiatives, new-fangled notions, training courses etc. I still both hear and see examples of managers who show little evidence of having any humanity whatsoever. For now, let’s work on that.

  46. Comment by Prefer not to say posted on

    I have always been a person who has been told on many occasions that i "share too much". the phrase was actually written years ago in an annual report. I make no secret of my insecurities, i need to be reassured. I have had some managers who have been supportive and brought out the best in me, and lots of others who stored it up to be used in evidence. I was once given a "must improve" when I asked why, I was told " I had to give one to someone and I thought you would put up less of a fight" She was right.

  47. Comment by "Paul" posted on

    Interesting article. I agree that it can be OK for leaders to admit vulnerability, but it can depend how it's done. I have seen battles won and lost upon such revelations.. There is still so much prejudice towards difference and honesty continues to be risky as support needs to be guaranteed. As comments here show, not everybody identifies with the need to share, nor sympathises with those who do. In my own workplace they immediately recognised my differences as "preferences" and accommodated them for many years, because the benefits meant I was more productive than most and able to network more effectively- this resulted in back to back promotions. In recent years as senior staff have become more focused on their own promotions -and are also being forced to use appalling performance management systems- the culture has changed. If people perceive that you don't achieve results using the same methods as them then they are encouraged to force you to do so. For me, this has caused mental anguish as I have continually worked outside my preferences. it also resulted in bullying and my breakdown. During that time I became aware that I was likely to have undiagnosed autistic spectrum disorders. I shared this with my line manager who recognised some of the traits- who also knew I'd been depressed. She then redoubled her efforts to "break" me with the assistance of the HR team and denied that I'd ever mentioned being depressed. I was off sick for some time and when I returned they placed me in "quarantine", with no work for me and no team to sit with. None of the support that is suggested by the Civil Service or Health Agencies. The Civil Service and related authorities should consider making testing for ASD available for adults in the service ( as many fast track graduates or senior staff are exposed to psychological testing that would indicate neurodiversity, and many data-loving colleagues show these traits anyway). The impact of undiagnosed difference is recognised by NICE: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg142/chapter/introduction. In doing so, they should also offer a framework for utilising and supporting those differences (as apparently the security services do). Until these types of support exist, few will see the value in sharing.

  48. Comment by Tamara Hervey posted on

    Very interesting blog. Would love to have an 'offline' conversation about it.

  49. Comment by Rob B posted on

    As I read this article again it seems that many of the comments have gone astray. The article focuses on personal vulnerability in those specifically in leadership roles.

    I am reminded of a picture I have seen. It is of an aged (vulnerable) man standing alone (vulnerable) atop a mountain. He has reached the summit. Yet, still, he holds a lamp to light the way for those below. And he rests himself on a sturdy staff.

    So, yes, I think it’s quite befitting that leaders show their vulnerability. For, quoting the well- known saying, “It’s lonely at the top”, every leader must ascend alone. And, surely, any staff of any value would rightly support them on their way?