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  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

As a CEO, my strength as a leader comes from a position of vulnerability

Early in my career, during my time at PepsiCo, I had an amazing mentor, Al Carey. Al, the former CEO of PepsiCo’s North America business, practiced, and instilled in me, the notion of servant leadership and its guiding principles: the idea that leaders should serve, rather than be served; that they should set the vision and strategy and then work tirelessly to remove the barriers that get in the way of achieving that vision and strategy; and that they should lead by listening and giving support, rather than telling employees what to do. This leads to strong loyalty and connection with your team. Al showed me that empathy, humility and vulnerability are at the center of this approach, with mutual trust and respect also being critical.

I am a big believer in showing up vulnerably. Perhaps this inclination has also bled over from my personal life. After being sick for much of my life, I found out in my mid-thirties that I was born with (and previously undiagnosed with) something known as Common Variable Immunodeficiency, which is a Primary Immunodeficiency disorder where my immune system does not work properly. This makes me much more susceptible to infections and while I now receive weekly immunoglobulin infusions to help my immune system fight infections, I am still literally more vulnerable to illness than most people. As you can imagine during the pandemic, that was quite scary. I was unable to go into any public spaces, including the office, beginning in March 2020 and lasting for over a year until I was fully inoculated in mid-2021 (and luckily I made antibodies to the vaccine, which not all patients with this disorder are fortunate enough to do). I kept my sanity through family dinners, long solo bike rides and (overly) social distanced outside visits only. This all means that being vulnerable comes natural to me; it is authentic to who I am and likewise, has become a core pillar of my leadership philosophy.

To many executives, vulnerability in leadership is synonymous with weakness. Some leaders are encouraged or taught to hide emotion; they must have clear lines delineating their personal and professional lives, never showing doubt, apprehension, fear or worse, failure. It’s important to understand that when I speak about vulnerability, I’m not talking about putting yourself out there as a sitting duck or being emotionally reckless. Rather, when you remind people that you are a human first and importantly–that you know they are too – you break down walls built up over years and simultaneously start to create a work environment that allows people to operate from a place of comfort, honesty and authenticity. This leads to a more positive workplace experience and ultimately has a material business impact.


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