Embracing Vulnerability in Leadership Part III

Guest blogger: Jennifer Roe

This is part three of the three-part series. Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

Practitioners: From Analysis to Human Connection

Behavior analysts are trained to be analytical, strategic, and data-driven. “We are not emotionless people,” observes Terzich-Garland, “but we have not learned how to talk about those emotions in a way that allows others to help us or train us in those difficult situations. We tend to move into a position of analyzing contingencies before we acknowledge that the vulnerability is in the room. If you are in a strategic mode wanting to fix the problem, the other person is still in the mode of feeling uncomfortable and feeling like they weren’t heard. Most employees aren’t going to say, ‘Hey, I’m uncomfortable right now. I’m having these different feelings and thoughts, and I don’t know what to do with them.’ They may sabotage a training session unintentionally because they don’t know how to stop the process and express what they are experiencing.”

The solution? “We must give people permission to experience and speak about their vulnerability in work settings. Acknowledgement is key. If you bypass this and go directly to fixing the problem, that is skipping a crucial opportunity for connection,” she adds.

Organizations providing ABA intervention and support can benefit from the trust and connections accessed through vulnerability, and this extends to relationships with clients. In the case of families coping with autism spectrum disorders, for example, providers are working with a population that experiences high levels of persistent and pervasive stress (Fiske, 2017). Not understanding how stressors affect stakeholders “can lead to ungenerous thinking about and misinterpretations of behavior,” says Terzich-Garland. Guidance and feedback are needed to encourage parents to discuss how the stress they experience affects their feelings about what practitioners are asking them to do. During this process, vulnerable feelings ebb and flow. Practitioners trained to embrace vulnerability can work with these feelings to promote positive outcomes for all involved.

Can You Be too Vulnerable in the Workplace?

Can You Be VulnerableTerzich-Garland cautions, “Vulnerability is not a ‘tell-all.’ When you see another person’s vulnerability because they happen to share a story, what you’re really trying to do is make a connection with that person by acknowledging that their vulnerability exists. Let’s say they tell you a story about what’s happening in their personal life. This doesn’t mean that, in turn, you share everything about your personal life and how you feel about the person. Instead, acknowledge their struggle and that they may need support; offer your support and to work together to explore what other support and solutions might be available.” 

“Oversharing” & How to Avoid It

In July, 2022 Harvard Business Review published, “The Best Leaders Aren’t Afraid to be Vulnerable” in which Janice Omadeke, Founder and CEO of The Mentor Method, provides an answer to the question, “How much information is too much information?”:

A sound rule for maintaining a culture of vulnerability while establishing healthy boundaries—especially when you’re the one sharing—is asking yourself: “Am I creating emotional labor for myself or others by sharing this?” If the answer is “yes,” you are likely oversharing. Pull yourself back, and workshop whatever statement or action you are making until the answer is clearly “no.” (Omadeke, 2022, para. 22)

A Personal Choice, Not a Skill

Omadeke adds, “It’s easy to think of vulnerability as a skill, but when we do, we distort the value of being vulnerable in the first place.” The point, she writes, “is sharing the authentic parts of yourself that you may have otherwise chosen to hide or keep private. Doing so is a personal choice—rather than a skill—that we weigh every day. It requires the self-awareness to ask: Will being honest in this moment serve me? Will it serve others?” (Omadeke, 2022, para. 6).

A Key Ingredient

Terzich-Garland emphasizes a crucial component for success—trust—and notes that it’s a top-down issue. “Trust, like vulnerability, has to be nurtured. It has to be done one interaction at a time.” She cites Charles Feltman’s 2008 work, The Thin Book of Trust, which defines:

Trust: Choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to someone else’s actions.

Distrust: A sense that something that’s important to you is not safe with another person or in a certain situation.

Feltman outlines four traits or “distinctions” we can assess to determine someone’s trustworthiness:

Sincerity: I mean what I say, say what I mean, and act accordingly. I can be taken seriously.

Reliability: You can count on me to deliver what I promise.

Competence: I know I can do this; I know I need to learn to do that.

Care: We’re in this together—I have your interests in mind as well as my own.

Distrust arises, summarizes Terzich-Garland, “when leaders are seen lying, cheating, or undermining others; failing to attend to someone in distress; or failing to see someone’s humanity and treat it with care.”

“The disaster of distrust in the workplace is that the strategies people use to protect themselves inevitably get in the way of their ability to effectively work with others.”

—Charles Feltman

Effective leaders don’t perceive vulnerability as “weakness,” but as a way to promote connection and forge solutions. Embracing vulnerability in the workplace can create a psychologically-safe environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, and acting in harmony with their values. Embracing vulnerability can be particularly beneficial to ABA service-providers as they navigate their own work environments or while delivering client care. Building these safe, sound connections can be achieved through a combination of approaches, including implementing ACT, “The Three Cs of Empathy,” “The ABCs of Resolution and Transformation,” and building trust in your organization from the top down.

Learn More

These are only a handful of the tools and topics presented in Terzich-Garland’s comprehensive webinar, linked below. Click to put the power of vulnerability to work for you.

 We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.

Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts



Embracing Vulnerability in Leadership: Lead to Empower in Supervision With ACT Banner



 Watch Now

Provides 2.5 continuing-education credit hours/BACB, BACB: Supervision.


Brown, B, (2018). Dare to lead: Brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. Random House.

Daniels, A.C. (2009). OOPS!: 13 management practices that waste time and money (and what to do instead). Performance Management Publications.

Dindo, L., Van Liew, J. R., & Arch, J. J. (2017). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A Transdiagnostic Behavioral Intervention for Mental Health and Medical Conditions. Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, 14(3), 546–553. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-017-0521-3

Feltman, C., (2021.). The thin book of trust: An essential primer for building trust at work (2nd Ed.). Thin Book.

Fiske, K. E. (2017). Autism and the family: understanding and supporting parents and siblings. W.W. Norton & Company.

Greco, L. & Hayes, S. C. (Eds.). (2008). Acceptance & mindfulness treatments for children & adolescents: A practitioner’s guide. New Harbinger.

Hayes, S., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy: the process and practice of mindful change. The Guilford Press.

Restrepo, S. (Director). (2019). Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. Netflix.

Taylor, B. A., LeBlanc, L. A., Nosik, M. R., 2018. Compassionate care in behavior analytic treatment: Can outcomes be enhanced by attending to relationships with caregivers? Behavior Analyst in Practice, 12(3), 654–666.

Terzich-Garland, B. J., (2020). The R.E.A.L Model™, rethinking generalization: A practitioner’s guide to teach for generalization in ABA treatment for autism and other disabilities. Different Roads to Learning, Inc.

Terzich-Garland, B. J., (February, 2022). The R.E.A.L Model™: Embracing vulnerability in the midst of chaos makes life APPROACHABLE. [Webinar]. ABA Technologies Inc., Melbourne, FL. https://youtu.be/8mQuKPKyvzA

Terzich-Garland, B. J., (November, 2022). The R.E.A.L Model™: Embracing vulnerability in the generality of parent training skills. [Webinar]. ABA Technologies Inc., Melbourne, FL. https://youtu.be/wyCG_FFlRkY

Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). Thought suppression. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 1, 59–91.

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