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Wellbeing & Personal Development

Podcast: Vulnerability in leadership

Alex Staniforth
Published: June 27, 2023
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An In Good Company podcast with Alex Staniforth, adversity adventurer and founder of Mind Over Mountains charity. 

Should leaders be vulnerable?

Resilience, wellbeing, agility... these are all terms we hear a lot about in leadership development. But talking about vulnerability in leadership is far rarer. Admitting everything isn't perfect could be seen as weakness, when in fact it could be a great way to build trust.

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Alex Staniforth is a record breaking adventurer, author and ultra runner. He founded the mental health charity Mind Over Mountains in August 2020. Vulnerability is not a word usually associated with the world of extreme adventure and high performance, but Alex's commitment to helping others build resilience through adventure is born from his experiences of having survived the two biggest disasters in Mount Everest history as a teenager and through his personal challenges including suffering with epilepsy, stammering, bullying and mental ill health since childhood. 

This podcast explores vulnerability with no apologies. Scroll down for a quick snippet of Alex's conversation with Dan and to find all the links to listen / watch the full podcast.

Why is vulnerability a leadership strength?

I wouldn't really class myself as a leader in a conventional way. So that's a bit of vulnerability right there. When you think of running an ultramarathon or climbing Everest, you see that as the pinnacle of strength and achievement. I think that's why it's so important to break that kind of stereotype, to be human and show that we have the same fears, doubts and worries as everybody else. And it's important to show having a stammer, badly bullied, my mental health challenges because I don't want people to think, well, I couldn’t do that because of this. Actually, we can all do so much.

The 'positive multiplier effect'

I think it's important in business (again, I'll caveat that I don't come from a standard business background) to show up as our true selves. To share things that maybe we don't want to share and just want to keep in a box over there in a corner. What I've seen is that it helps other people feel safe to do the same, to really show up as themselves and bring all their skills, to be willing to take risks, to make mistakes. I call it the ‘positive multiplier effect’, because it led to the start of my charity.

The most terrifying thing I'd ever done

I'd always been too ashamed of talking about my own mental health challenges because I was this adventurer. I was this person who was supposed to be mentally tough, ‘invulnerable’. And when I did finally find the courage to talk about it in a blog for the world to see - it was the most terrifying thing that I’d ever done. And the response was amazing because other people then started saying, "I thought I was the only one".

And then you get this effect where people create a safe space to really, you know, talk about the things that are challenging them. That blog showed me it's OK to be vulnerable. From there I undertook a challenge event, which led me to being invited to an event in the Lake District around trying to promote the benefits of walking for mental health. This ultimately became a pilot for my mental health charity 'Mind Over Mountains'.

The benefits of vulnerability

My moment of vulnerability, of courage, has ultimately created something much, much bigger. As leaders, we need to be willing to put our hand up first, to set an example, to create a safe space for other people to build trust, relationships and to innovate.

I'm still doing challenges, but the ‘why’ is different. It's about helping people to believe in themselves. We can achieve so much out of our comfort zone, but showing yourself and being vulnerable does take courage.

Listen to the podcast on Spotify

Watch our interview here:


Listen again

005: Leadership agility with Molly Brown Pickett, Asana

Coming up

007: HR, inclusion and diversity with Mukta Arya, Société Générale

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