Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Expectations and Vulnerability

Written by: on April 12, 2019

As we approach the celebration of Palm Sunday, I find it ironic that we are reading and discussing the concepts of vulnerability and leadership. The humility of Jesus as he rode a donkey wasn’t just a publicity stunt to influence and shape the story that was being written. He wasn’t trying to appear to be a man of the people or trying to be seen as a regular guy. Brene Brown said, “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” 1 The contrast of Jesus on a the rode to Jerusalem and what we envision a leader, whether it be a CEO or our local Pastor, is quite different and should challenge us to seek the models in our lives that produce the leader we what to be.


It has gotten popular to talk about leaders that are approachable and down to earth. People want to love their leaders and have them strong yet understanding of the common person. China’s current leader has gone out of his way to relate with the working class by visiting farms, helping the poor, even being seen walking in the rain like a regular person 2 In a country started on revolution, finding and directing the story that mold the will of the people is crucial. I remember XiJinPing first took over and I heard many of my Chinese friend talk about his humble upbringing on a farm. They also talked about how he would meet and talk with people of the street, helping the old and informed when needed. They would point to pictures that were taken as proof of his “down-to-earth-ness” and relatability. Chinese desire to see their leaders as strong and willing to fight for what the people need. When the story that is being told falls in to the desire that the people want to hear, then it seems to validate some of the restrictions and alleviates some of the unknown fears of the future. The problem is true vulnerability and what Chinese see as necessary for a leader are usually diametrically opposed.

This last week I was talking with a lady that works in the governments health department. We were talking about the Confucius leadership hierarchal structures and how it influences the way that their boss leads. She explained that in her experience the boss was always right and it was her and her fellow employee’s responsibility to figure out what the boss wanted and how to accomplish it effectively . China is a high context society and that leads many times to employees needing to guess or read between the lines in order to understand what the boss, team leader, pastor or head of household is wanting. She also told me that in this type of setting no one will willingly volunteer to head some project up or stick their next out for fear that they then become the negative example or incur the leader’s wrath. However there is a build in “respect” within any group that if the leader, boss, pastor, family patriarch asks for something to be done, then one is obligated to do what is asked. In this context failure equates to shame. “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”3 Thus vulnerability is seen as weakness and indecisiveness with this country.

Leading my own teams in this Asian concepts of indirect communication and high context has its own challenge in terms of vulnerability. I have tried to model an openness to what I know and what I don’t in a way that leads others with different abilities than I to step up and use their gifts in ways that benefits the team as a whole. When dealing with both Chinese and Americans, trust and the willingness to be vulnerable is a learned experience. Heather Human says, “By being more vulnerable, the level of trust is higher and you are humanized to the people around you,” 4 Brown put is like this, “build a culture of trust.” 5 With a multi-cultural team there have been moments of misunderstanding and confusion. Some of this has to do with my desire for leadership development and the local Chinese’s desire to listen and obey the boss (in this case, me).

Brown also says, “The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear…[then later]You cant fully grow and contribute behind armor.6 My Chinese team have learn to watch, listen, and learn what my expectations are. It have been slow but worthwhile to see many of them move from fear of the boss to one of the team members. Trust, love, and my own vulnerability has helped remove some of the protective armor that kept them from initially engaging. I do not always enjoy being the leader. In fact there are many moments where I think following might be more enjoyable. This week I was reminded again that the investment we make into people do not always bear the result that we wanted. Although I might not have been happy with this latest set back, I know that my investment will not be wasted. Leading with love sounds like such a cliche, but is a great reminder of what was modeled for us and how we are to model for others.


1 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.

2 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/world/asia/xi-jinping-china-propaganda.html. accessed April 11, 2019

3 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.

4 Huhman, Heather. If You’re Not Willing to Be Vulnerable, Then Don’t Be a Leader. https://www.inc.com/heather-r-huhman/leaders-arent-superheroes-heres-why-you-need-to-show-vulnerability.html. accessed April 11, 2019

5 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.

6 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.

About the Author


Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

17 responses to “Expectations and Vulnerability”

  1. Hey Greg, this: “no one will willingly volunteer to head some project up or stick their next out for fear that they then become the negative example or incur the leader’s wrath.” is true in France too. And this book got me thinking that perhaps vulnerability is expressed differently in different cultures.

    Fro example, when I (as a 40-something) give credit or power to a young leader, that is a huge risk in this country. It’s a vulnerable move (showing that one of my “inferiors” out-thought or out-worked me), whereas, it would be not such a risky thing to do in the States.

    • Greg says:

      Jenn I am a firm believer that culture influences more than we realize. In our context there is also the concept that one easily replaced (1.3 billion people) and to vulnerable means that one is not valuable. I too think there is the temptation to always live in the “fake it until you make mode” and pretend we have all the answers (done this myself) but I have found as I have talked with people that one on one vulnerability to what stresses me, tempts me, frustrates me has produces a deeper level of trust.

  2. Mike says:

    Great job making it this far in the program! I have enjoyed our journey together, especially when you helped me with translation for the HK armor of God coin, Thanks.
    You know, I was thinking about what you said, about when Christ rode into town on the donkey. Well, he had a job to do, and that was the cross, scapegoat for our sins, crucifixion, victory over death, and ascension to the right hand of God. While He may have modeled divine humility, submission, and obedience to the Father it was for our greater good and ultimate glory.
    The Christ who rode that donkey towards the cross will be coming again riding on the clouds of glory and “every eye will see him” and “all the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn.” (Rev. 1:7).
    I think we have taken vulnerability too far in the West, and while I am not a Shame-Fear subscriber, I do see vulnerability as more negative than positive in many leadership aspects.
    I have led in the collective cultures and was able to successfully adapt a servant based situational-transformational leadership mix into one that fits and works in their context. I believe that reflecting Christ is much more than intentionally trying to be vulnerable.
    Stand firm,

    • Greg says:

      Brown talks about the right time and the right way to be vulnerable. This discussion reminds me of the difference between confession and repentance. Our world loves confession (like some aspects of vulnerability) to over share without thoughts to how this will impact anyone. I don’t think this type is healthy. I would go so far as a leader needs to have humble vulnerability. Showing that there is purpose and understanding with the mode of sharing.

  3. Great post, Greg!

    Wow! I hadn’t thought of the journey of Christ in that way. You mention, “The humility of Jesus as he rode a donkey wasn’t just a publicity stunt to influence and shape the story that was being written. He wasn’t trying to appear to be a man of the people or trying to be seen as a regular guy.” So many times, we concentrate on the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, but we forget about the journey – we forget about the humanity and the humility of Christ.

    This is why Brené Brown’s book is imperative for healthy leadership. She challenges us to work from the stance of authentic transparency and embrace our imperfections along the journey.

    Working within the context of a culture that struggles with the idea of shame. How does this play out in extending grace towards faults and leaders exposing their own faults? How much trust needs to reside before vulnerability can occur?

    • Greg says:

      Colleen. that authentic transparency has got to be one of the most difficult things for me. The mask of leadership is so easy worn and it makes us feel separate and in control.
      You always ask difficult questions 🙂 Extending grace within this culture really makes one stand out and often leads to questions of why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes Chinese will simply chalk it up to you being a foreigner (with their strange ways.) This is idea of trust only comes with time and relationship. There is no real quick fix or way to get around it. Time spent in relationship yields opportunities of opening one’s heart and that slowly brings trust.

  4. Jay says:

    Hi Greg,

    I always appreciate your perspective, and am impressed with this week’s thoughts, especially as it relates to your current context. Thank you for all you have written these past two years!

    Honestly, I did not know much about Brene Brown. So I looked up her sight and found this of interest…


    Our last book and Blog of the semester. Look forward to talking more Monday!

    • Greg says:

      When I told my daughter that I was reading Brown, she responded that she loved her and that I would really enjoy it. I always enjoy what I learn (more than the journey to learn it)

  5. Jason Turbeville says:

    I suspect the concept of it being ok to fail in the Asian context would be quite the opposite reaction. Is there anytime that they would not loose face in failure, how have you been able to bridge the gap in bringing your leadership team into trusting you and joining up with you. I can imagine it has been quite the journey.


    • Greg says:

      Every failure (in some aspect) makes one lose face. This is true unless you have another scapegoat that can be blamed. I wrote in Colleen’s response that time in what builds relationships.

  6. Hi Greg,

    I so appreciated your putting this book in the context of Palm Sunday. This morning we walked in a processional down the main street of our town with palm branches, reenacting the first Palm Sunday from years ago. It’s sobering to sing “hosanna” realizing that within the week those who so publicly lauded the Lord would turn their backs on him. His public and bold vulnerability demonstrates the risks of truly being fully human, whereas those of us who cover up our frailties are trying to be as gods.

    Love to you and Michele this Easter.

    • Greg says:

      We all write from where we are at. The stark contrast between the “save us” moments of Palm Sunday hosannas to the “crucify him” shows how much we all want to have the kind of savior we have made and are comfortable with. We don’t desire too much intimacy nor vulnerability from our leaders. They (nor us) can handle a savior that appears weak.

  7. Kyle Chalko says:

    Great job Greg! This sort of leaedership I could imagine being very suprising for structures that are more accustomed to authoritarian leadership. Great insights about high context

    • Greg says:

      What are saying by that? Are there hidden meanings is your response….just kidding, looking for the high context in your response 🙂 I am a firm believer that culture (even in the states) influences our communication and our openness to hearing Christ.

  8. Dan Kreiss says:


    You and Jenn are the voices in this cohort that I usually most want to hear. It is important to me to see how these texts play out in different cultural contexts. This week you again highlight the distinctiveness of Chinese culture and what ‘vulnerability’ communicates to them. I guess you have to read every assigned text with Meyer’s text at the ready.

    My area of interest is the multicultural church and I see much to affirm in Brown’s text this week but also wonder about cultural perspectives and what level of vulnerability is appropriate. It seems that you are developing ideas in that regard, at least as it relates to your specific context.

    • Greg says:

      Kindness Dan. I am probably like you and wonder what I have to offer our classmates. I do think those that have lived abroad gravitate to others that have had to make those transitions as well. I did like Meyer’s text and laughed many times reading it because I could see myself making similar mistakes.

      Level of vulnerabilities and culture I believe are learned. I think relationships can change individuals preconceived concepts of acceptable or not. Finding ways to cross those barriers are important for those multi-cultural churches that are seeking a balance and understanding beyond themselves.

  9. Jean Ollis says:

    Thank you for always highlighting key cultural perspectives…because of course this content is westernized. Interestingly, I believe Brene has consulted with CEO’s all over the world and I wonder if/how her message changes or adapts. I loved your Palm Sunday analogy! Excellent!

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