Commentary: “Crying CEO” blog provides leadership lessons about vulnerability.


Braden Wallake chief executive officer of HyperSocial and now famously referred to for his role as “Crying CEO” created an uproar on social media this week when he shared an LinkedIn post which featured a close-up photo of himself crying — which was taken after the layoff he had made at the company.

A lot of people slammed him in a rage of mocking remarks and blaming him for his narcissism, while sharing an outrage.

Although a social media swarm can be a waste of time, there are times like this could be learning instances.

As the CEO/founder of the company I reached out to many of my colleagues to discuss this incident and the wider perspective of public vulnerability as leaders after watching this incident unfold.

What caused this article to cause such a stir? receiving thousands of responses and opinion pieces from mainstream media?

As founders who have faced similar circumstances, the problem with Braden’s post wasn’t that he was crying. The issue was that he wrote his post and the entire situation all about him and his feelings -and his team were affected by the loss of their jobs.

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Braden is a person who, just like me has the privilege of coming to each day to do something we designed for ourselves. Being a CEO/founder is a decision. The possibility of being laid off isn’t.

The focus ought to have been directed towards the latter aspect — at least at that particular time.

Being a CEO or founder isn’t without its difficulties; even on the best days, we are doing an extremely difficult task to complete. Yes, sharing your vulnerability regarding the numerous challenges isn’t only okay but it’s an emotionally healthy and wise practice that can bring positive effects for not only ourselves but also our teams as well.

However, context, content timing, and the focus of sharing are crucial. In reality there are only a handful of aspects of my CEO job that I find more difficult or more important than mastering the art of the ability to be aware of context and react in any situation.

Utilize your own context-based cues, and you’ll be able to take the game to the next level. If you don’t, you might end up all over the web in ways you would not like to be.

If our desire to share our vulnerability publicly is self-serving and takes up the place which can be filled by encouragement for team members but is not properly timed and obstructs the demands of our team, we must take on the burden of the backlash.

“I am having a difficult time with the idea of public vulnerability , because it is apparent that often the person who is vulnerable isn’t trying to add value, but is instead seeking emotional support,” Pradnya Desh, CEO and co-founder of, told me. “That’s not the right thing to ask to an employee who’s been fired or to the public at large however it’s appropriate for CEOs (or any other person) to seek the support for their mental health that they require through friends, family or through professional services.”

The context is also important. Public vulnerability can draw the spotlight on issues that would otherwise be ignored. It could also be detrimental and, in certain instances it may be fabricated or even in some cases, malicious.

Shannon Palus, in a blog post entitled “Don’t blame the crying CEO” added her thoughts about what makes these public displays so disturbing: “They claim to offer an opportunity for perspective, some insight, and some humanity –“CEOs are human beings, too !”– but what they actually do is marketing. It’s unsettling to see vulnerability pop up in the feeds even though it comes from a real source that is released into the world for very different purpose than human connections.”

As as a CEO, I questioned my colleagues if there was the best method of approaching vulnerability as leader.

“Too often, leaders use vulnerability as a method of controlling their public image in order to influence their peers, as well as becoming viewed as progressive leadership,” said Aparna Rae the CEO and founder of Moving Beyond. “Real vulnerability isn’t found in the public realm, but it is daily life when managing a team or the company. It manifests as creating space for new leaders, acknowledging that you’re not sure of your answers developing a deeper listening style, and acknowledging the ways that your personal stressors and life influence your the work.

“Ultimately the most authentic indication of vulnerability is being transparent with the people who we work with about our struggles, goals aspirations, fears, and limits.”

When it comes down to it We owe it our teams to constantly be thinking about them first. This is true to LinkedIn comments and posts on public forums.

Consider: Does it affect our team? Does it benefit the team? Does this seem like the right time for this post? Do I need to sleep on it?

Everyone makes mistakes (I am sure I have) And to the credit of Braden, Braden Wallake has been seeking to make use of this awareness to help others.

That’s great, especially because there are lots of Braden’s. We are both an example of the average U.S. CEO/founder: men who have chosen this position due to desire, not necessity — and are significantly and unjustly underrepresented in VC investment and that of the U.S. startup ecosystem. I’m hopeful that things will change in the near future and will do my best to make that it happens however until that happens we need to improve how we perceive us and the teams we work with. We also need to improve how we publish on Linkedin.

I for one am going to be asking me these questions more often from the moment on.

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