SOURCE: Inside Us

Inside Us

June 28, 2011 08:45 ET

Emotional Vulnerability Is an Asset, Not a Weakness, for Business Leaders

It Allows for More Authenticity, Heightens Their Level of Communication and Provides More Tools to Work With, Says Coach to Business Leaders; Hillary Clinton's Emotional Moment -- as a Candidate -- Showed the Power of Authenticity

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - Jun 28, 2011) - Business leaders are supposed to be cold, objective and incisive, or hot, passionate and domineering. They're not supposed to be emotionally vulnerable.

But emotional vulnerability can be a powerful asset to a leader -- as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton famously demonstrated, opening up emotionally during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, says a noted executive coach, Vivian James Rigney, founder and principal of Inside Us, an international executive coaching firm. The balance of the campaign may have been different had she embraced, rather than moved away from, that moment.

"We're used to thinking of emotional vulnerability as a liability, when in fact it can be an asset," Mr. Rigney continues.

"Most business leaders -- like most people -- adopt a style designed to protect themselves against harm," Rigney says. "They wear a mask in order to seem strong and invulnerable. But wearing that mask makes them inauthentic. They don't listen well, they don't communicate effectively and they don't have access to a full set of tools when it comes to working with an audience."

Mr. Rigney goes on to provide select insights relating to the importance of vulnerability -- why it matters and how to bring executives back to it...

  • Why vulnerability can be an asset for business leaders. "Emotional vulnerability opens you up to what others are saying and thinking," Mr. Rigney says. "It's an open door to your audience. When you're vulnerable, you're not expending energy on building a wall, you're able to really listen, take in information and understand situations. And you can respond with more of your own qualities, since you're not covering anything up. Simply put, you have more tools to work with."

  • Why business leaders lose their vulnerability -- and what it costs them. "As kids, we all start out with a degree of emotional vulnerability," Mr. Rigney says. "But early on, we're conditioned out of it. We learn different ways of engaging with people -- maybe schooling, because we want to project strength in a business setting, or maybe even much earlier, our parents didn't show much emotion or told us being invincible is important and so we learned not to. We adopt a set of behaviors that involve using some of our qualities and leaving others on the shelf. And then we become rigid and intolerant. We say, 'I've been successful, why can't these guys who are reporting to me be like I am?' We become intolerant of other people and shut them out. As a result we take in less information, we have less give and take with other people and we have fewer of our own capabilities to draw on."

  • How leaders can get their vulnerability back. "You have to reconnect business leaders to who they are authentically," Mr. Rigney says. "I confront them very directly. I'll ask them what their goals are, and what are the costs if they fail. That's key, because they're often driven by fear of failure. They believe their personal stock price always needs to go higher. They're avoiding failure at every cost. Then I'll ask, 'Have you always been like this? Are you sure? When did you decide using the stick was the only way? When did you learn this was the way to engage people?' I'll hold a mirror up to them.

    "What typically happens is that they realize that they aren't naturally this way -- there was a time in life when they learned to cover up their vulnerability. And I'll ask them, 'You've been acting invulnerable because it was important to other people, but what's important to you?' And they feel liberated. Wearing that mask burns a lot of energy. Once they drop it, they're able to relax and draw on more of their qualities than they've allowed themselves before and above all, feel much stronger and more congruent. They become more human and that makes them better leaders.

    "Hillary Clinton had a famous moment during the 2008 Presidential campaign in New Hampshire where she showed emotional vulnerability -- opening up, her voice softening, tears welling when she talked about how she didn't want the country to fall back. Some commentators understood how important it was for her to open up, but others said, 'Oh, she was playing the feminine card.' But in fact she was revealing a human, authentic side of herself and the public loved it. Pundits wrote that this was a breakthrough moment, when the labels of her being cold, aloof and even ruthless fell away, possibly signaling a turnaround for her campaign. 'I wanted to see who the real Hillary was. It got me -- that was real,' an independent voter stated.1 Many voters watching that debate were positively impressed. Unfortunately, a moment later she caught herself and went pack to playing the role of an impenetrable rock. She went back to familiar territory. It seemed to her that she was going back to projecting strength, but in fact she was going back to a weakness. Her ability to show vulnerability and show herself -- that was the real moment of strength."

"It comes down to authentic leadership," Mr. Rigney says. "I want leaders to be more of themselves, not less of themselves. And they buy into that. How can you not perform better if you're more of yourself?"

For more information, or to schedule an interview or bylined article, contact Frank Lentini of Sommerfield Communications at (212) 255-8386 or

About Vivian James Rigney

Vivian James Rigney delivers Peak Performance Coaching to successful business leaders, executive boards and senior directors of Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Europe. Prior to coaching, Vivian worked in business development at executive and CEO levels. He understands through personal experience the connection between successful leadership and the elements of trust, authenticity, flexibility, effective communication and emotional intelligence. Mr. Rigney holds an MBA from the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Paris, a Masters in Neuro Linguistic Programing from ITS, London and an MII in Marketing from the Dublin Business School.

As a mountaineer, he has just completed the seventh and final peak on the world's seventh continent, Asia's Mount Everest. This has been a particularly challenging, humbling and rewarding journey -- one that links powerfully with his coaching in facing challenges through personal growth.

About Inside Us

Inside Us is a global executive coaching firm that serves the world's leading corporations, businesses and institutions. Inside Us coaches exclusively at senior executive level, empowering business leaders and their teams to make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements to their performance. The firm operates across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

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1 Karen Breslau, "Hillary Tears Up," Newsweek, January 7, 2008 (

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