The Happy Engineer Podcast

130: Leading with Vulnerability Superpowers – the Future of Leadership with Jacob Morgan | International Best-Selling Author | Futurist

Leading with Vulnerability is not “being vulnerable” like you think… That’s a powerful idea that Jacob Morgan brings to engineers who want to advance their career success and leadership.

In this episode, we look into the future of leadership with international best-selling author, Jacob Morgan.

A professionally trained futurist, well known and respected for his previous books on the future of work, Jacob took on the challenging question, “What do leaders need most to face the challenges of the coming decade?”

That question, plus 100 CEO interviews and 14,000 employees surveyed, resulted in his fifth book, “Leading with Vulnerability.” We dive into his biggest breakthroughs today.

If you want to get ahead in your career, in a way that you feel proud of and everyone else feels honored to support your success… then tune in and listen up.

Jacob’s work has been endorsed by the CEOs of Mastercard, Best Buy, Unilever, The Ritz Carlton, Nestle, Cisco, Audi, and now you can add Zach White and Oasis of Courage to that list.

So press play and let’s chat… this conversation is not about being vulnerable, but leading with vulnerability.

Then, join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and networking with engineering leaders!  Join us at HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 130: Engineering Leadership: Leading with Vulnerability without Being Vulnerable


[00:02:49] Important mindsets and skillsets for leaders. Vulnerability and doubt discussed. Personal story of struggling with vulnerability. Panic attack experience.

[00:06:26] Suggested summary: Book writing led to panic attack for author.

[00:11:17] Team challenge: vulnerability feared by leaders.

[00:12:55] Stressful situations, anxiety, cleanliness, therapy, vulnerability.

[00:15:25] “Lead with vulnerability, not just be vulnerable.”

[00:20:55] Leadership and vulnerability: competence boosts likability.

[00:22:47] Vulnerability and competence crucial for leadership success.

[00:26:48] Leading with vulnerability is crucial for growth and success.

[00:31:53] Executive tries to ruin colleague’s life, regrets it.

[00:35:04] Four questions make leaders feel vulnerable: mind, body, heart, and soul.

[00:40:28] Vulnerability is key in building relationships.

[00:42:44] Vulnerability: intention and purpose in sharing.

[00:45:52] Questions and statement for a happy engineer.




LISTEN TO EPISODE 130: Leading with Vulnerability Superpowers – the Future of Leadership with Jacob Morgan

Previous Episode 129: How to Increase Confidence Interviewing and Get the Job You Want


Leading with Vulnerability without Being Vulnerable… What’s the difference?

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, Jacob Morgan and I dive deep into the powerful concept of leading with vulnerability and its impact on personal growth, team dynamics, and organizational success.

Here are the top three insights you can leverage as a leader:

1. Vulnerability unlocks potential: Embracing vulnerability and acknowledging imperfections is key for growth and development. Leading with vulnerability helps solve complex problems and stay ahead of the curve.

2.The power of vulnerable leadership: We explore examples of leaders who successfully led with vulnerability, creating trust and driving positive change in their organizations. Discover how vulnerability can make highly competent individuals more likable and increase perceptions of their competence.

3. Climb the vulnerability mountain: Building your vulnerability mountain involves starting small and gradually sharing more personal challenges or struggles. Find out how to authentically incorporate vulnerability into your leadership style and foster a culture of openness and growth.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, watch or listen to the entire conversation!



Jacob Morgan is an international best-selling author, keynote speaker, and professionally trained futurist. This is his fifth book. Jacob’s work has been endorsed by the CEOs of Mastercard, Best Buy, Unilever, The Ritz Carlton, Nestle, Cisco, Audi, and many others. He has a popular podcast called Great Leadership With Jacob Morgan and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two kids, and two Yorkie rescue dogs.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: All right, Jacob, welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast, man. Glad you’re here. Yeah, me. It’s a pleasure, by the way. I love your, your background. It’s really, really nice. 

[00:00:10] Jacob Morgan: Yeah. A lot of people ask me, they say, is, is that a fake background? And I say, Nope. That’s, uh, my wife and her design eye, she put all that stuff together.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:19] Zach White: Kudos to my wife Blake. For those, just listening on the audio format, go check out the YouTube channel and see Jacob’s stunning background, 

[00:00:26] Jacob Morgan: motivation to get to the YouTube channel. Exactly. 

[00:00:28] Zach White: So, Jacob, I, I’m really curious as we go today. You got a new book coming out. We’re gonna talk around leading with vulnerability, but I wanted to understand first, uh, right now you look on LinkedIn, you’re known as a futurist and your previous bestseller.

[00:00:43] The future leader. your ability and your leadership in helping us to look into the next decade and thinking as leaders who we need to become switching into this focus around vulnerability was really interesting to me. So I was curious if you could describe how did this topic of leading with vulnerability enter your world being known.

[00:01:02] As a thought leader of the future, and now here we are talking about vulnerability. Just connect the dots for me. When did this become a focus for you? 

[00:01:09] video1981543128: Yeah, 

[00:01:10] Jacob Morgan: it is an interesting story. Um, so I, I, I did get a professional certification in foresight from the University of Houston, which is where that kind of the, the futurist, um, angle came from.

[00:01:20] But when I was working on my last book, the Future Leader, which came out, I believe 2020, so it was right in the middle of the pandemic, actually right after Covid was announced as being a pandemic. Two weeks later, the book is out. So couldn’t have been worse timing. Oh, wow. For that. But I remember I interviewed 140 CEOs for that book, and as I was interviewing a lot of those CEOs, the topic of emotional intelligence and vulnerability and being human, all those things kept coming up during these interviews was CEOs.

[00:01:50] But at the same time, these CEOs kept telling me, That they understood vulnerability, but they weren’t quite sure how to make that real inside of an organization. And they kept saying, well, I’m a leader, right? I’m responsible for the lives of other people. I. I’m responsible for a lot of money inside of my organization is vulnerability for me, the same as it is for anybody else inside my organization.

[00:02:15] And they were asking me these types of really interesting questions around, well, how do you approach it? What happens if it doesn’t go well? What happens if somebody uses it against you? Is there any data or research on this? Do you have any examples from other CEOs or leaders who are doing this? Sure.

[00:02:27] Yeah. More and more these questions kept coming up and I started, googling around and seeing what I could find and there was nothing out there specifically looking at leaders. So that was one part of the story and that kind of planted the seed in my mind of, 

[00:02:39] Zach White: well, this, what were you asking them?

[00:02:41] Like this was interviews for your previous book, right? Yes. What were the kinds of questions that you came in with that led to them asking you back about vulnerability? Well, I 

[00:02:50] Jacob Morgan: was asking them what are the most important mindsets and skill sets the current and aspiring leaders need to have? And I said, if you were to look now and also 10 years in the future, what’s a crucial mindset?

[00:02:59] What’s a crucial skillset? What’s a big challenge? what’s a big trend, that you’re seeing that leaders need to be aware of? And this concept of I. Vulnerability came up in almost every conversation, but at the same time, it came up with this theme of doubt and uncertainty and how. Mm-hmm. And so that was one piece of this journey.

[00:03:18] The second piece is more personal. So my family is from the Republic of Georgia, which is the former U S SS R. And my parents fled communism. They were Jewish. It was a very hostile climate for them. And so growing up, You know, my parents had very different parenting styles. My mom was very emotionally open.

[00:03:36] Talk about your feelings, share how you’re doing. My dad was the exact opposite. My dad is the, nobody caress about your problems. Nobody cares about your weaknesses and your challenges don’t burden anybody else with your problems. And so, as a young boy growing up, as much as my mom tried to emulate the behaviors of emotional openness, I grew up emulating my dad.

[00:03:56] So vulnerability. It was a very foreign concept to me. I didn’t practice it. I didn’t share, even to this day, it’s still something that I really, really struggle with. But I grew up emulating my dad and I remember one time, this was after a soccer tournament and I was probably, eight years old.

[00:04:11] Granada Hills. They hills in Los Angeles. And so we just finished a, a soccer tournament and we went to the coach’s house to pick up trophies. And the coach comes out with a trophy, he hands it to us. My dad’s like, what the hell is this?

[00:04:23] And the coach is like, well, you know, it’s a participation trophy. And my dad looks at the coach, he’s like, they got last place. Why are you giving them a trophy? And the coach says, well, you know, we wanted the kids to be included and not feel left out. And so my dad looks at the coach, he looks at me, he hands the trophy back to the coach and he’s like, nah, you keep this son, get in the car.

[00:04:40] Right? And that’s, that’s how I grew up. And so so I guess that’s the second piece of the puzzle. And there’s one more piece. So kind of the, the trifecta. Yeah. And this happened a couple years ago, and this was shortly after I signed the contract for my book to write a book on leading with vulnerability.

[00:04:55] And a couple weeks after that, I’m standing in my bathroom. It’s probably 7 30, 8 o’clock in the morning, I’m brushing my teeth and all of a sudden I start to feel really weird. my vision gets a little blurry. My heart starts beating very quickly to the tune of like 120, 130 beats per minute, which is, that’s already a strenuous workout.

[00:05:17] Um, and then I’m overcome with this fear of like, dread and panic, and I’m thinking I’m having a heart attack. I’m standing there thinking like, this is the end for me. Like, I’m gonna die. Wow. Which is weird because I’m. Really into fitness and eating and stuff like that. So, you know, I scream for my wife who’s getting our kids ready for the morning.

[00:05:34] I, I lay down in the bed and all of a sudden my body starts like convulsing. which is very weird. if you’ve seen the movie, the Pixar movie where there’s like little emotions that are in the, in, in the person and they’re like, inside out. Inside out. There you go. And so it felt like that.

[00:05:48] And this was during the holidays, so I’m trying to make an appointment with a doctor. Can’t make an appointment with a doctor ’cause everyone’s outta town. My wife takes me to urgent care. They’re filled with covid patients. They don’t wanna see me. so my wife drives me to the emergency room and she talks me out of going into the emergency room.

[00:06:05] she’s like, you know, it’s, you know, just, just wait, wait. Anyway, a couple days later, I’m able to get an appointment with a doctor and she’s like, okay, well let’s take a look at your heart and make sure that you’re okay. So she does a, a scan. She did all these, all these various tests on me, and she’s like, you’re great.

[00:06:19] You’re super healthy. And I say, well, all right. What the hell’s wrong with me? What happened? Yeah. What? Please explain what? Yeah, exactly. So she looks at me and she’s like, well, you know, you might wanna go see a different kind of doctor. And she’s like pointing to her head, like a, a shrink a therapist.

[00:06:33] I’m like, what are you? Freaking kidding me, I’m not gonna go see a shrink. And she’s like, nah, you should go talk to somebody. So I go talk to a therapist and, uh, did a couple sessions together. And it turns out that one of the, big factors that had, that caused me to have a panic attack was the fact that I was writing a book on vulnerability, which is something so foreign to me to begin with.

[00:06:55] So literally writing this book gave me a panic attack that just goes to show how. Much vulnerability is foreign to me and is not comfortable for me to practice and, and talk about or do any of these things 

[00:07:11] Zach White: with. That’s unreal. Jacob. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah. I wanna real quick go back. I’m curious where were you born in the US then, or where, where did you grow up?

[00:07:20] Jacob Morgan: Uh, I was born actually in Melbourne, Australia. So my parents fled from the Republic of Georgia to Italy. They actually met in Italy. they didn’t know each other when they were in Georgia, so they met in Italy. They moved to Australia because we had some family there. I was born in Australia, then they ended up coming to the United 

[00:07:37] Zach White: States.

[00:07:38] Okay. Really interesting. And so yeah, this idea of how we pick up our patterns of personality and behavior from our parents and our upbringing, this mom experience versus dad experience. And I think a lot of people can relate to this. I can relate to this. Yeah. But I was curious for you, what do you think.

[00:07:56] You took away from your mom’s perspective growing up. So you said, you know, I, I kind of emulated, I modeled after dad as it relates to vulnerability, but I’m curious, what did you take away from mom? 

[00:08:09] Jacob Morgan: I. I mean, my mom did try to model as much of that emotional openness as possible. She modeled very much this mindset of curiosity, of trying new things, of not being scared of how to respond when people are maybe bullying you or being mean to you, and how to have a more positive and optimistic outlook on life and.

[00:08:29] It’s not that I was never emotionally vulnerable and I was a robot. I mean, right. You know, I, I, I tried based on the behaviors that she was modeling. and I became more accepting to those the older I got. Right. I mean, especially over the past few years after I had this, uh, the panic attack I wrote the book, more of the things that my mom was talking about and modeling started to, to click.

[00:08:50] you know, my mom’s actually a, a therapist. But you know, I didn’t want to go see her. How ironic. Yeah, but it’s funny because she knew right away, like when I told her what was happening and I was like, I like panicked, cried in her arms. It was terrible because I literally thought I’m dying and I couldn’t find a doctor.

[00:09:06] And you gotta imagine like the sheer fear that you have, right? You’re just sitting there talking and all of a sudden your heartbeat just goes through the roof, through the roof. you can’t see straight. You feel this, flood of panic and you don’t have anybody to talk to. You can’t get a doctor.

[00:09:20] it was terrifying. It was very, very, it was the scariest thing that ever happened to me. My mom, you right away, she’s like, this has nothing to do with the physical aspect of your body. It has everything to do with your head, with, what’s going on in your brain.

[00:09:33] And she knew right away what was going on. but growing up I tried to emulate or tried to bring in a lot of that curiosity, trying new things, trying to be emotionally open, but that was much harder for me to do than, you know, just being the tank going through life. 

[00:09:47] Zach White: Yeah. It’d be interesting to see how this weaves back into your research and findings then, as we.

[00:09:52] Age and mature and then have these defining experiences like a panic attack. Of course, we don’t wish that on people, but no. Sometimes we then go back and reconnect to some of those influences from our past that maybe we’ve not modeled or suppressed, 

[00:10:06] Jacob Morgan: but Well, well, it’s funny because I’ve seen movies, and I’m sure a lot of people have seen movies where people have had panic attacks, right?

[00:10:11] Where characters have had panic attacks. Mm-hmm. And you look at that and you’re kind of like, Yeah. Like, that’s bs like, whatever. What? Yeah. How bad could that be? It’s like, whoa, you’re feeling a little stressed. But for people who’ve never had a panic attack, it is freaking terrifying. it’s hard to explain, but you feel like you’re gonna die, even though it’s so silly because it’s literally your brain playing tricks on you, but you don’t know that.

[00:10:35] So it’s terrifying, but not at all harmful. Yeah, which is a weird combination 

[00:10:41] Zach White: it’s happening a lot more often than people think. Yeah, I had an engineer on my team back in my career days. Who had a panic attack, ended up, you know, in the er and then had this monitor that he needed to wear 24 7.

[00:10:55] And he never told me about any of it. And then one day I saw him wearing this, this device and said, Hey, you know what’s going on? This is a direct report of mine, Jacob. And he never said a word. And finally, You know, he confided in me. He was vulnerable about what was going on, and it just broke my heart.

[00:11:12] Like, oh my goodness. What? You know, am I putting too much pressure on you? What’s going on? You know, is this a really Yeah. 

[00:11:18] Jacob Morgan: Challenging. I members this, I’m 12 members on my team. You know, were a virtual team, and I, I shared this story with them. I told them what happened to me and, uh, you know, four other people on my team have had.

[00:11:29] Panic attacks in their lives. Yeah. So it’s kind of, you know, a third of my team has had experience with this. Mm-hmm. And it’s funny to your point that your direct report didn’t wanna share this with you because I, I surveyed 14,000 employees in partnership with a leadership research firm called D D I, and we asked these 14,000 employees, what’s the number one reason I.

[00:11:46] Why leaders are not vulnerable at work. And the number one reason is I don’t wanna be perceived as being weak or incompetent by far. Like nothing else even comes close. And so it’s no wonder that people are not comfortable, leaders don’t wanna share these things because they don’t want to be perceived as being weak or incompetent or incapable, or I shouldn’t be in that role, or, oh, I need help.

[00:12:05] Nobody wants to have that perception. And now more than ever, we’re realizing that that’s actually a very dangerous way to lead inside of an organization, of having that aura of imperfection. Hmm. 

[00:12:16] Zach White: So you have a terrifying experience. Yes. After you’ve already signed the book deal. To write this really quick that like how did that sort of recovery and then you had to go.

[00:12:30] Interview a hundred CEOs and survey 14,000 people to get all the data for this book. Was that something that you’d already planned or tell us about the journey, you know, as you started leaning into Yeah. Collecting all this evidence and writing the book. was it like at the brink of panic the whole time, or did something shift in you and then what 

[00:12:48] Jacob Morgan: was that journey like?

[00:12:48] No, not, not at the brink of panic. I mean, I haven’t had a panic attack since that happened. so it’s been a little while, thankfully. I’m glad to hear that. I mean, there’s certainly been some stressful situations in my life since then just, and not stressful situations, but it, you know, when you. Get flooded 

[00:13:04] Zach White: with a lot of 

[00:13:06] Jacob Morgan: work.

[00:13:06] Or for me, at home, for example, I tend to get a little anxious or, stressed. I like cleanliness, I like having process and routine. I. So, for example, if there’s, if there’s a big mess in the kitchen and the kids are screaming and things are being thrown around and it’s just kind of chaotic, I tend to get like, okay, I’m getting a little agitated.

[00:13:25] Like I can feel that I’m getting a little Sure, stressed and anxious and, you know, through having therapy sessions that I had a little while ago, they gave me some techniques and things that I’m able to do, which have been very, very helpful in my life, to kind of mitigate and make sure that those things don’t happen again.

[00:13:39] I mean, what happened? I knew that when I was going to work on this book, I wanted to blend in both quantitative and qualitative aspects of data. there have been some books written about vulnerability in the past. Brene Brown spearheaded this over the last, when did her first book come out?

[00:13:53] 10, 15 years ago on this topic. So it’s been a while, but I wanted to build on top of that and specifically focus on vulnerability for leaders inside of a corporate setting. Yes. And I wanted to bring in both the quantitative data, so like actual. Statistics from employees that we surveyed, but also tie that together with stories of CEOs and I wasn’t able to find anything like that that’s been done before.

[00:14:15] Mm-hmm. And so I, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I did that for my last book, the Future Leader, and it just helps add credibility and, Give everybody the tools and resources they need to make this a reality. Because it’s one thing when you read a book and you see a couple examples here and there, but I wanted lots of examples.

[00:14:34] I wanted lots of data. So I set out on that journey and I began interviewing these CEOs. Actually, some of them even shared with me that they have had panic attacks and their roles, which I was like crazy, right? But they never talk about that stock. and even a lot of them, they’re like, yeah, don’t put that in the book.

[00:14:49] Alright, well, please don’t, please don’t tell me. No, don’t, don’t put that in the book, but amazing. It, it, it does happen far more often than people realize and just nobody wants to talk about it. Hmm. 

[00:15:00] Zach White: obviously the engineer and me, Jacob, I want to get into some of that data. But first, Maybe some definitions.

[00:15:06] Yes. And I think we take for granted that everybody knows what vulnerability is, and that’s a universally understood trait and and those actions that might embody it. But I wanna hear from you when you’re talking about vulnerability for leaders in this book, what does that mean? What is vulnerability and maybe what is it not?

[00:15:24] Let’s start there. Sure. 

[00:15:26] Jacob Morgan: Well, a key differentiating factor that I make in the book is that there is a difference between being vulnerable versus leading with vulnerability. the argument is that you should not be vulnerable inside of your organization. You should lead with vulnerability. And there’s a difference between the two.

[00:15:41] So let me give you an example, a story. This is one of the stories I have in the book, and this one was told to me by the c e o of American Airlines. Uh, he’s actually now the former c e o current executive chairman Doug Parker. And he told me this story of Hollis Harris. Hollis Harris used to be the c e o of Continental Airlines.

[00:15:59] And this story happened, I believe, in the, in the, in the eighties or nineties. And basically what happened is Continental Airlines was really struggling as a company. Hollis Harris did not know what to do. So one day he went in in front of his entire 42,000 employees and he basically said, the company’s struggling.

[00:16:17] I’m not sure what to do, pray for the future of the company. That was his message to his 42,000 employees. The next day he was fired and Doug Parker shared the story with me and he said, well, you know what Hollis did was very vulnerable, but there was no leadership. Now I interviewed a lot of CEOs, and especially during the pandemic, they too were faced with times, when they didn’t know what to do.

[00:16:42] Um, one of the CEOs is Fleetwood Gobbler. He’s the c e o of a company called Sass. L It’s a South African energy company. They too have around, you know, uh, mid 30 or low 40,000 employees, and he became c e O shortly before the pandemic. he too had to deal with something uncertain. The company was in debt.

[00:17:00] By around $10 billion or 10 to $13 billion. It was about to be repossessed by the banks. They were gonna come in and just take everything over. The company was just gonna disappear. And he too was not sure what to do. So he did a town hall similar to Hollis Harris, but he gave a little bit of a different message and his message was, here’s the situation that’s going on with the business.

[00:17:25] I have a vision and an idea. Of how we can get out of this. I know that we have a talented team. I know that we can rebuild trust in our customers and our employees. I’m not sure the exact steps that we’re gonna take to get to this vision uh, that I believe in, but together we can figure it out.

[00:17:42] So let’s trust each other. Trust me, let’s go together on this journey and help me figure out how we can get to this vision. That too is vulnerable. He adds that piece of leadership in there. And that is the key overarching theme for the book. Do not be vulnerable, but lead with vulnerability. And the kind of basic premise for this is what I call the vulnerable leader equation, and that is vulnerability plus leadership equals vulnerable leadership.

[00:18:12] Vulnerability is about connecting with people. Leadership is about being highly competent, being very good at your job. If you can bring those two things together in any capacity and in any role, I. You’re gonna be able to do a lot of amazing things. So connecting with people and being good at your job.

[00:18:28] Now, in the Hollis Harris story, imagine that Hollis was Joe in accounting. Uh, he’s been at the company for maybe one or two years, and he shows up to work one day and he says, oh my God, the company’s going down. Pray for the future of the company. Somebody would probably say, eh, you know, let’s take you out to lunch.

[00:18:43] You’re probably having a bad day. Everything’s gonna be fine when you’re the c e o of an organization. And you say that, yes, yes. It’s not the same. So it’s very clear that vulnerability for leaders in positions of power and authority, when they’re responsible for the lives of others, when they’re responsible for the business, is not the same mm-hmm.

[00:19:01] As it is for everybody else. So this is why it’s so important not just to be vulnerable, but lead with vulnerability. And let me just give you maybe one or two examples. Not stories, but for example, we talk about being vulnerable, right? You could show up to work and say, Hey, I made a mistake, like I’m so sorry I screwed this up.

[00:19:23] Very vulnerable, right? Yes. There’s no leadership there. What’s far more impactful is to say, oh man, I’m, I really screwed this up. I’m so sorry I made a mistake, but here’s what I learned from that mistake. Here’s what I’m gonna do to make sure that that doesn’t happen again in the future. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

[00:19:37] Okay. So that’s vulnerability plus leadership. same thing for like, if you say, I don’t know, right. They say, I don’t know, is a great way to, show vulnerability inside of an organization. If you’re inside of a company and somebody keeps coming to you and they say, Hey, Zach, uh, you know, I need your help with something.

[00:19:52] Can you, can you do this for me? And you just say, oh, I don’t know how to do it. And the next do. And I say, Hey, Zach, I’m working on this project. can you take care of this for me? And you say, I don’t know how to do that. I 

[00:20:01] Zach White: got nothing vulnerable over 

[00:20:04] video1981543128: and 

[00:20:04] Jacob Morgan: over and over vulnerable. Right? But you have to imagine at a certain point, somebody’s gonna be like, What the hell is Zach doing in this role?

[00:20:11] Yeah, yeah. Why is he there? So instead of saying, I don’t know, you add the leadership piece to that. So I don’t know, but hey Jacob, you know, I’m not sure how to do that, but um, I have a couple of resources that I can go to to help me figure that out. I signed up for a course, let me spend a couple days trying to figure that out and I’ll get back to you.

[00:20:30] Vulnerability plus leadership. Yes. And that is the right way, to approach it inside of an organization. Really 

[00:20:36] Zach White: good distinction. And not talked about, to your point, especially, it’s not the, the burden of leadership and the responsibility we choose to take. If you want to be in an executive level role Yes.

[00:20:47] Or even a director role to acknowledge by my choice of taking on that leadership, I need to think about this in a different way. That’s really important. I, I appreciate that. And 

[00:20:56] Jacob Morgan: so one, one point on that, since you mentioned it, When you talk about seniority and vulnerability, I, I have this little chart in the book, where basically leaders do more and they care more.

[00:21:07] If you’re in a position of leadership, you ultimately, you’re doing more than everybody else. You care more than everybody else. But there’s also kind of a relationship between seniority and vulnerability, right? as you become more senior inside of an organization, you should be able to be more vulnerable.

[00:21:23] There’s a relationship between competence and vulnerability, I should say. and it’s a very interesting, it’s, it’s a very, very linear relationship, One of the, researchers that I interviewed, his name is Elliot Aronson. He’s a professor at the University of California Santa, or former professor, uh, uc, Santa Cruz, where I went to school and he did some research and he came up with this thing called the Pratfall Effect.

[00:21:44] And the Pratfall Effect is that if you are highly competent, right? You’re good at your job mm-hmm and you’re vulnerable, what happens is that vulnerability gives you a little bit of a bump. It makes you more likable. It gives you the perception of being more competent. So for example, let’s say you’re, you know, highly accomplished, uh, you’re just crushing it at work, and you show up to work one day and you spill coffee on yourself, and you’re like, ah, man, I spilled coffee on myself.

[00:22:12] A lot of people are gonna look at you and you say, wow, you know, he’s human, or she’s human like that, that’s awesome, right? And it’s you, that person becomes a little bit more likable. You view them a little bit differently, but there’s a catch. If you are not good at your job and you’re mediocre.

[00:22:26] And you are vulnerable, what’s gonna happen is that vulnerability is going to reinforce your mediocrity. So vulnerability is not always a good thing. there are times when vulnerability is not a good thing interest, but if you’re highly competent and you’re good at your job, vulnerability gives you a boost.

[00:22:45] And I think that’s a very, very important distinction. Interesting. And so that’s why there’s, I think, a very, very important relationship. Between, those kind of two elements that I talk about in the book, which are vulnerability and competence. Vulnerability and leadership. And the reason why you need both is because let, let’s say you’re just really good at your job, I.

[00:23:08] as an engineer, you are just, you’re just awesome at your job. You can solve all the complex problems, all the challenges. Everybody comes to you for everything, but you are not able to connect with anybody on your team. You don’t have that vulnerability piece what’s gonna happen. People are gonna view you as a robot.

[00:23:25] They’re gonna say, you know, Zach’s really good at his job, but man, the guy’s like a robot. He can’t connect with anybody. There’s no engagement, no one, nothing. The flip side of that is also true. Let’s say you’re really, really vulnerable, but maybe you’re not that great at your job. Then people are gonna say, well, I, I really like Zach, you know, I like this guy.

[00:23:44] He’s a great person. Can’t get anything done like we’re able to, yeah, we have great conversations. He’s awesome. We love to hang out. But he’s really not that good at his job. I don’t, I don’t think he should be in that position. Yeah. Um, so this is why, again, you need both, you have to lead 

[00:23:56] Zach White: with vulnerability.

[00:23:57] So let’s sit on this for a second, because I think as an engineer, when you’ve described. Connecting with people as a key element of what vulnerability is. I wanna dissect that a bit because many engineers would self-assess that connecting, you know, oh, I’m a, total introvert. I’m very shy. You know, I, I don’t like connecting with people.

[00:24:18] And it’s easy to hear this and say, oh, no. Then as an engineer, am I at a disadvantage? Because vulnerability and connecting doesn’t come naturally to me. And then also, connecting just. At a surface level. Oh, okay. I, I connect with people by talking about fantasy football or how was your weekend?

[00:24:35] Or sharing about the kids’ soccer game, last night or, okay, so I’m connecting with people, but is that actually vulnerability just to connect or is it a certain type of communication or, what you’re sharing and how you’re connecting. So can you address those two points? if I am an introvert, if I am shy, What do I need to do to overcome that and not have that be a demerit on my potential leadership?

[00:24:59] But then also is, is all connecting created equal when it comes to vulnerability or, or is there something unique about that message? 

[00:25:06] Jacob Morgan: Yes. Um, okay, so a lot of questions there. So lemme try to, break it up into some pieces. So first I realized I never answered your question kind of a definition. and I have a very specific definition of what it means to lead with vulnerability or be a vulnerable leader, which is, vulnerable leader is a leader who intentionally opens themselves up to the potential of emotional harm while taking action to create a positive outcome.

[00:25:31] So I’ll repeat that and then we can dissect that if you want. Really good. Really good. So, a leader who intentionally opens themselves up to the potential of emotional harm while taking action to create a positive outcome. So you are sharing. Doing something that opens you up, exposes you in some way where it shares emotion, but you’re also taking action to create a positive outcome.

[00:25:57] And that’s the leadership piece, I made a mistake, right? I’m doing something that’s exposing me to emotional harm. Yeah. I made a mistake. Here’s what I’m gonna do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Or Here’s what I learned. So it’s. the exposure, the action, opening yourself up to emotional harm action that you’re gonna take to close it.

[00:26:15] Uh, okay, so getting back to your other question, where do you wanna start with that? ’cause there were a couple questions in there. Well, yeah. 

[00:26:20] Zach White: This idea of. Shyness. Introversion. Yes. if connecting in general is hard for me, and now you’re saying not only do I need to connect, but I need to connect in a way that opens me up to emotional harm.

[00:26:33] It’s easy for me as an engineering leader to just kind of throw up my hands and say, oh gosh, well, I’m screwed. I’m never gonna make it. Yeah. So, so what does somebody do if that’s maybe their mindset today? Or how would you encourage me as an engineer to say, look, here’s how to approach this. If connecting or shyness is a gap 

[00:26:48] Jacob Morgan: for you.

[00:26:49] Yeah, and look connecting. I don’t think it necessarily comes natural to me either. And part of it also depends on your goals and aspirations and, and what you aspire to and, and what you aim to be. There are certainly people out there who. Are simply okay with focusing on tasks and projects and not dealing with people and not sharing anything.

[00:27:10] And they, they make it in the world, uh, right. They never aspire to anything great. They’re never gonna lead a team. They’re never gonna, necessarily, have a great impact on a business. Of course, there are exceptions every now and then, but by and large, there are people out there who are okay with just focusing on the task, put on the headphones, do the task, leave me alone.

[00:27:31] and again, it depends on what your goals are. the whole reason why you wanna lead with vulnerability, I think there’s a few reasons for it. Number one, it creates trust. So if you wanna be able to have a team work together, you are able to solve complex problems to unlock, the potential of those around you to create an environment where people can speak up, talk about mistakes, stuff like that.

[00:27:52] The vulnerability piece is important if you wanna learn and grow, if you wanna get better, whether you’re an engineer or a marketer or a leader. You can’t grow and develop and become better without acknowledging that you are not perfect without acknowledging that you are struggling with something, without acknowledging that you have challenges that you are faced with.

[00:28:11] So, It kind of depends. As I mentioned the, and actually, so one of the engineers, and you have obviously an engineer audience, you’ll probably be able to relate to this analogy. his name is, I’m gonna butcher his last name. art Degus, g e u Ss. Art de Degus is, he’s the chairman, c e o of Synopsis.

[00:28:30] Right, okay. It’s a 20,000 person company, technology company, engineering company. And I talked to him about leading with vulnerability and he’s an engineer. PhD. He’s a scientist. Yes. This is what he does all the time. And he gave me a very engineering way to think about leading with vulnerability, and he describes it as a VN plus one.

[00:28:52] So the version N of myself, but leading with vulnerability helps me become the plus one. Right. And constantly when we’re creating software, when we’re designing new products and services, we’re always trying to do the plus one version. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Where we are now, plus one. And the analogy he gave me is that, whether you wanna be your VN plus one or VN plus 5,000, right.

[00:29:16] Being that much better, you cannot do that unless you are comfortable being vulnerable. Right. It’s just not possible. And he said that the danger that a lot of leaders have is that if you do not use vulnerability as a way to become that plus one version of yourself, as the world around you keeps changing, what’s gonna happen is by default you are going to become VN minus one.

[00:29:42] Because if you stay the same, you don’t learn, you don’t grow, you don’t embrace vulnerability, you don’t talk about challenges, you don’t do things to become better. As the world around you changes by default, you are slowly going to start to fall behind the curve. So the only way to become that VN plus X, whatever version of yourself is to lead with vulnerability.

[00:30:04] Yeah. Um, and he told me, you’re never gonna be that version of yourself unless you can be vulnerable. It’s kind of like thinking of yourself like an app. I mean, think about how many times we update apps. every couple of weeks you probably get an update on your iPhone that’s saying so and so, there’s new updates and bugs and fixes and stuff like that, right?

[00:30:22] So imagine as an engineer that you’re an app. How are you going to update and upgrade yourself if you do not have that vulnerability where you’re comfortable talking about that and like, Hey, you know, I’m trying to figure this out. I need time for the next version. Exactly. It’s just, just not possible. So 

[00:30:38] Zach White: Jacob, out of these hundred interviews and you know, 14,000 people surveyed, I’m curious, what was the most like, shocking or unexpected outcome?

[00:30:48] Is there something around this idea of leading with vulnerability that you really did not expect to find that stood out to you? 

[00:30:55] Jacob Morgan: Um, well, there are a few things. Number one is I was surprised how many leaders out there We’re on board with, with the concept, how many leaders out there are, understanding the value of doing this.

[00:31:09] Like, I, I, I didn’t really talk to any CEOs who were like, vulnerability, what the hell is that? Vulnerability? Yeah, this is sense. Um, so I was very pleasantly surprised by how many CEOs out there were. Understood the value in this, but were uncertain of how to approach it. So that was a very, very positive response for me in that a lot of them were talking about this.

[00:31:30] A lot of these leaders were, having conversations around these themes with their teams. So that was a very, very positive surprise for me. some of the stories in particular that I heard from CEOs were crazy of like being backs stabbed. I mean, I have so many stories of CEOs that were just like coming out of a movie, whether it’s 

[00:31:48] Zach White: like, what’s a story that when you heard it, you just couldn’t almost believe your ears? Like, are you kidding me? That actually happened. 

[00:31:53] Jacob Morgan: there’s so many. so one of ’em was the c e o of a, uh, large 

[00:32:00] technology company. He’s one of the CEOs who has to be, anonymous.

[00:32:03] he, he was in a mid-level leadership position and his boss was one level down from the c e o and his boss is basically like, look, I’m gonna be c e o at this company one day, and then when I get promoted to c e o, I’m gonna take you with me. You’re gonna get promoted too.

[00:32:17] So sure enough, this executive became promoted, he became c e o of the company. And then, uh, he came to his friend and he’s like, I’m sorry. I can’t make you c e o or I can’t make you, uh, a top executive. I had to give the position to Janice and this guy’s really pissed off.

[00:32:32] He’s like, who the hell is Janice? you told me that I’m gonna get this role. And so this executive decided to take it upon himself to make Janice’s life a living hell. He would go around her back. He would do everything that he could. He would demean her, he would make fun of her. he would basically do everything he can to make her a life living hell, thinking that she would quit and then when she would quit, he would get her spot.

[00:32:54] So she never quit. And one day the C e O retired or got fired and a new c o came into place and this executive was like, well, I don’t have any allies at this company anymore. I should go talk to Janice because, she’s never really been mean to me, even though I tried to make her life hell.

[00:33:10] you know, she’s a okay person. So he goes to Janice and he’s like, Janice, I know I’ve been making your life a living hell over the past few years, and I’ve done all these things to you. I’m really sorry. And she burst into tears and she just started crying and weeping. And then he started crying too.

[00:33:27] And he never knew that the actions that he was taking to make his, Peers life. Such a living hell had such an impact on her. He always thought that she was like this ice queen, no emotion. And from that moment, he realized the impact that his actions, his words, his behaviors, had. on his peer that he was like torturing this person for years, for no reason.

[00:33:49] and I have so many, I have dozens of these types of stories that just are not sure 

[00:33:53] Zach White: publicly. Super, super excited to read the book when it releases, which at the time of this, uh, episode dropping were just days away from getting my hands on a physical copy.

[00:34:02] But yes. Jacob, tell me then, for you. There were some questions and I want to end with something. We could just leave everybody with these four questions that make leaders feel vulnerable, and I thought that’d be a good thing for us to just lay out there and help us understand the kinds of spaces where this shows up as engineering leaders for us to be become aware.

[00:34:23] So what were those four questions that make leaders feel vulnerable? 

[00:34:29] Jacob Morgan: so to give a little bit of context around, Where these came from and why these even came up. So my original idea is I wanted to create some sort of a scale, if you were to think of a scale of what makes people feel least vulnerable versus what makes people feel most vulnerable, what would be on that scale?

[00:34:45] And so I started asking all these CEOs these questions, what makes you feel least vulnerable and most vulnerable? And I realized that the responses I was getting were. Completely all over the map. Right. One c e o would say, I feel really vulnerable when I speak in front of other people. And another C E O would say, totally good with that.

[00:35:01] No problem. Sure. I feel vulnerable when I have to praise somebody. Different situation. Okay. Right. So it was all over the map. So I thought, all right, well there goes that idea. I can’t make a scale of any kind. then I started asking these CEOs, well, why does this make you feel vulnerable? And that’s really when the insight came to play as far as the questions that a lot of these leaders are asking themselves.

[00:35:23] really all the things that make leaders feel vulnerable come down to when they have to question, themselves in one of four ways. I call this the, mind, body, heart, and soul. So the first question that makes leaders feel vulnerable is when they have to question their mind. And mind is basically you’re questioning a thought or an idea, right?

[00:35:44] Oh, you know, why did I think that, you know, that doesn’t make any sense. Like, I dunno, we’ve all been there. that’s the first thing that can make you feel vulnerable. especially in a work environment. You’re constantly asked to defend your ideas, to share your ideas. And this one’s huge. It’s challenged and picked apart

[00:36:00] So that’s, that’s one question. second question is question of the body. body. These are more actions that you take. So something that you specifically did that is making you feel vulnerable?

[00:36:13] So, very common. The number one response that I got back from CEOs on this was, I feel most vulnerable when I hired somebody and I left them in the role for too long, even though they were hurting the company, and I left them there thinking that I could change them. This is an action that the c e O took.

[00:36:29] I hired somebody, I didn’t do anything, even though I saw that, you know, they were not a right fit for the role. Got it. Um, so this could be any action. It could be creating a new team. It could be, asking a question at a meeting. It could be presenting at a town hall, like something actionable that you’re doing.

[00:36:46] the third question that makes, leaders feel most vulnerable is question of the heart. Question of the heart is really around, not feeling seen or heard. This is where imposter syndrome comes into play. I don’t feel like I belong here. I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job. I don’t deserve this role.

[00:37:05] you feel that you are just isolated and alone and nobody can do anything to help you. Like that’s very vulnerable. Then the last question is question of the soul. it’s questioning who you are as a leader and who you are as a human being. Like, what kind of a leader am I?

[00:37:20] What kind of a person am I? Like, why, how, why would I do this? Like, these are very deep personal questions that you ask yourself. And so the caveat is sort of the two kind of. Guidelines for this are the sole, vulnerability is always the most vulnerable for leaders. Okay? Okay. Right. Whenever you’re in, put in a position where you have to question who you are as a person or who you are as a leader, that always makes you feel most vulnerable.

[00:37:44] The second caveat is that any one of these other ones could lead to sole vulnerability. So for example, you could start off questioning an idea and saying, oh, that was a dumb idea. Like, uh, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh man, what kind of a. Why would I even think of that? Like what kind of a leader am I to have that stupid idea, like clearly I don’t belong, and all of a sudden you kind of spiral.

[00:38:03] You get into that. Yes. Yes. So it starts off as just questioning an idea and all of a sudden you’re questioning, your whole reason for existing. Yep. Yep. So those are the two, caveats behind that. And those are, I found, the four questions that make leaders feel most vulnerable inside of an organization.

[00:38:20] Zach White: Such a useful way to self-assess if you are looking at your experience as a leader and wondering where am I getting stuck? Yeah. When it comes to showing up in a vulnerable way to lead with vulnerability, a super useful lens. I, I love that. I’ve, I’ve definitely had that downward spiral you mentioned.

[00:38:37] Yep. Where you start with an idea and the next thing you know, it’s like, why am I even alive this? I’m, I’m such a terrible person. I’ve made such a, yeah. So I’ve exactly, I’ve experienced that in my lifetime. 

[00:38:48] Jacob Morgan: And so build uh, one thing that you mentioned earlier, you were kind of asking where do you start if you are maybe more, um, Introverted or if you’re not comfortable with these, doing things, doing these types of things.

[00:38:59] So the book unpacks a lot of different elements. There’s attributes of vulnerable leaders and stuff like that. But one of the frameworks that I came up with, which I think is very helpful, and I’ve shared this with a lot of CEOs, is called the vulnerability mountain. And the cover of the book when it comes out, is gonna be, an adventure, an explorer who’s getting ready to climb this mountain.

[00:39:17] And that visual is very intentional because. I view vulnerability much like climbing a mountain, in the sense that you’re gonna make mistakes, you’ll probably go down the wrong path. You’ll probably get injured or hurt or, you know, it’s, it’s not an easy climb. But at the same time, I. When you start to climb that mountain, um, you know, the beginning is usually a little bit easier towards the beginning, and then it starts to get harder and harder and harder as you get, higher up on the mountain.

[00:39:45] But the higher up on the mountain you climb, the more clarity you get, the more beautiful the view becomes, the the more people you will meet on that journey as you are climbing that mountain. So the best recommendation I have, and this is. Whether you are introverted, whether you’re extroverted, it doesn’t matter, is you build your vulnerability mountain.

[00:40:04] And the two easiest points on that mountain to build are the peak and the very bottom. The very bottom is something that you can do now. and that is, for example, sharing what I did over the weekend, right? That’s my first step. maybe one step up from that is genuinely praising somebody on my team or being able to accept a compliment from somebody else.

[00:40:27] Yeah. Really good. Maybe one step up on that is ask for help on something small. I. And you build that mountain and maybe the top thing on your mountain is sharing a personal challenge or struggle, something that’s going on in my personal life that, is impacting me at work. Uh, but you know, I haven’t shared that with anybody.

[00:40:45] You know, maybe that’s the top of your mountain. So you can build the base of that mountain. The peak of that mountain and you can gradually take steps to get there. And that’s, I think a very helpful visual for people to keep in mind. And it’s important to keep that visual in mind because let’s say you listen to this and you watch this and you say, okay, I’ve never shared anything.

[00:41:03] Like I’m not a very vulnerable person. Tomorrow I’m gonna show up to work, I’m gonna share everything. I’m gonna get to work tomorrow. I’m gonna talk about, I’m in therapy and I have a tough relationship with my dad and my wife. Do not do that. That’s a terrible approach. Leading with vulnerability.

[00:41:18] One of the big critical components of this is about being authentic, having a level of authenticity in there. And one of the CEOs they interviewed for the book actually told me, That he used to work for A C E O who’s a very hard-nosed, tough s o b as he was described, right? he would give you a punch right in the teeth.

[00:41:37] Like he was a tough, uh, a really tough c e o. And one day this c e o shows up to work and he brings together all of his employees, uh, like his direct reports into a conference room, and he starts playing the Bette Midler song. You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings. And he, so he gets everybody into a conference room.

[00:41:56] He’s like, Hey, come here. I gotta talk to you about something. And then imagine all these people in the conference room and all of a sudden they hear this, you are the win beneath by wings. And he’s like, you mean so much to me? And this and that and the c e o that I interviewed who was working for this CEO at the time.

[00:42:10] Yeah. He told me, he’s like, you know, we all looked at each other thinking that this guy had a stroke. Yeah. Like, something’s wrong here. What’s going on? Something is wrong because it doesn’t, it’s not in the character. And he said, you know, I would’ve much preferred that he showed up to work with that same, tough attitude, punching you in the teeth, kind of, because nobody knew like what This came out of nowhere.

[00:42:30] Yeah. So this is why it’s important to build that vulnerability mountain. The authenticity piece has to be there, or you can’t just show up to work tomorrow, all of a sudden. And. You know? 

[00:42:41] Zach White: Yeah. Don’t go straight to the peak. No one step at a time, one step 

[00:42:45] Jacob Morgan: at a time. And so I won’t go through the whole framework.

[00:42:49] I have something called the vulnerability wheel, but at the center of that wheel is the most important aspect of leading with a vulnerability, and that is intention. And the key thing here is you should always ask yourself, what is the purpose of me sharing or doing X, Y, z? And again, there are five steps.

[00:43:07] I don’t need to go through all of them, but the intention piece is the most important. Yeah. So for example, if you are thinking, I, I should share about, the difficult relationship I have with my dad, I should talk about that I, you know, was fired, 10 years ago from a role.

[00:43:20] The question you should be asking yourself is why? What? What is the purpose of you sharing that and it needs to have some sort of a purpose inside of your organization. Is it to create trust? Is it to solve a problem? Is it to identify a new opportunity? Is it to build better relationships? Mm-hmm. How is it moving you or the team, or the business or the organization forward?

[00:43:42] If there is nothing there and you’re just sharing for the sake of sharing, then that doesn’t make sense. Right. Your, your workplace is not one big therapy session. Yeah, I agree. So, and the, context there matters. So ask yourself, what is the purpose behind what it is that I am sharing? And there should be some purpose there.

[00:44:00] If there’s not, don’t share it. 

[00:44:04] Zach White: Jacob. I think that’s a great place to, I mean, lots of stuff to digest. But an an important impetus to go get a copy of the book. So tell the happy engineers out there, where can they connect with this body of work? How can they grab a copy of your new book, leading with Vulnerability?

[00:44:21] Uh, and, and just ways to, to know more about you and your incredible research 

[00:44:24] Jacob Morgan: here. Sure. Um, so the u r L for the book is lead with Uh, for people who do order and pre-order, we’re gonna have some really cool bonuses on there, which you can see on lead with website. Um, a lot of people also have questions about vulnerability, so if you do have questions about it and you want to email me, you can reach out to me at [email protected].

[00:44:48] Uh, and my personal website is the future, and I create a lot of content on that stuff and people can always connect with me. 

[00:44:56] Zach White: Yeah, highly recommend. If you wanna buy a copy, go get that pre-ordered right now. We’ll put those links in the show notes, and also for the first. Three people who email me if you want a free copy, you know, if you want all Jacob’s amazing bonuses, you gotta go buy a copy.

[00:45:12] But if you want a free copy of the book, email [email protected] with the, leading with vulnerability in the subject line. Send me your address and we will ship you a copy for free as well to the first three folks who send that in. Jacob, this has been amazing, so much to apply and I love the frameworks, the tools making this actionable for us as engineering leaders.

[00:45:34] You know, from the work you’ve done and as a master of asking questions yourself to do this research and uncover these truths, questions lead, the answers follow, and we want better answers in our life. So we need to ask better questions. So Jacob, what would be the question that you would lead the happy engineer with today?

[00:45:51] Day?

[00:45:52] Jacob Morgan: The big question for the happy engineer is, well, it’s something that I ask myself all the time is, I ask myself a few questions. one is, why do you do what you do? And the second question that I’m always asking myself is, what makes you happy? what do you enjoy? but then besides a question, I think there’s also an important statement.

[00:46:15] That is very good and, and sort of the statement that I keep telling myself because like many other people, I can feel flattered or stressed or anxious or unhappy or, whatever it is. And so the statement that I try to tell myself all the time is, it’s okay. And I think that’s, that’s the most important thing for people to realize is that you will be okay.

[00:46:35] Everything will be okay. stressful things happen. They come and they go, but it’s important to stay present. It’s important to be in the moment, and it’s important to not let things snowball in your mind. So telling yourself it’s gonna be okay, I think is a simple, practical and something anybody can do.

[00:46:51] I. It’s okay, 

[00:46:53] Zach White: Jacob, this interview’s been better than, okay. Thank you again for your generosity to be here. Super fun and, uh, wish you a ton of success with the book, all of the re work you’re doing. Whatever’s next, do us a favor. No panic attacks before your next book. All right. Oh, man. 

[00:47:07] Jacob Morgan: Yeah, I’ll try not to.

[00:47:10] I don’t make any promises. 

[00:47:11] Zach White: Amazing. Jacob, thanks again. 

[00:47:13] Jacob Morgan: Yeah, thank you.