Written by Kate Billing, Founder & Creative Director, Blacksmith

(Part Three in a seven-part series) A 3 minute read.

Here are links to previous blogs in my series on using my COVID-19 acronym as a recipe for thriving in ‘the current situation’

This week it’s ‘V for Vulnerability’ that gets our attention.

The C Word 2_c


Within the context of a COVID-19 world I thought we’d look at vulnerability through a lens other than the one popularly employed by Brene Brown in her GOOD work around it.

Looking at vulnerability in the way I propose definitely requires us to PRACTICE what Brene teaches us – compassion, empathy, curiosity and courage – but the definition of vulnerability itself is different.

In an era of pandemics, I believe it is helpful to consider vulnerability as a set of prevailing conditions which may adversely affect a person’s ability to prevent, mitigate, prepare for or respond to a systemic crisis like COVID-19.

I believe, based on my research and reflections, that  there are FOUR aspects of human vulnerability to consider these conditions within:

Four aspects of human vulnerability


Within this domain we look at things like the strength or weakness of family structures, isolation (physical or social), and relationship health (Home Team, Work Team and Community) as factors which mean a person is more or less vulnerable to the impacts of ‘the current situation’.


Here we consider the aspects of identity (what a person believes about themselves), as well as beliefs and attitudes about change and about nature of the world as it is (and is becoming) which may support or sideline a person in navigating the changing reality. We also look at mental health, emotional fitness, and having a growth mindset.


This domain considers the level of vulnerability a person has due to their changing financial circumstances, employment certainty (be mindful of the impact of language like ‘essential vs non-essentail’ or ‘critical vs non-critical’ roles!), and their ability to remain employed when the impacts of all other domains are considered (psychological, social and physical wellbeing).


Our final domain is especially important in a COVID-19 world as it looks at the prevailing conditions that mean a person may be more or less vulnerable to the virus itself. In the current reality this means considering a person’s general health and physical wellbeing, age (especially if are they over 70), any underlying health conditions which amplify their vulnerability, and their access to resources such as food, shelter and health care.

As an individual you can review your OWN experience and circumstances across these domains. You can also review the experience of the people in your ‘Bubble’ and in your extended Home Team. Look for where the vulnerabilities and strengths are and make a game plan for action, reviewing and updating as the future unfolds.

As a leader, you must consider the potential vulnerabilities of your people AND your people’s people – their Home Teams. Talk with your Work Team, coming from a place of curiosity, interest and compassion, to understand their reality. They will know you want to support them and their development and individual needs. Be mindful of creating safety in the conversation on the basis of trust and understanding, without judgement.

This kind of conversation will be especially important as we travel through the Alert Levels, because anxieties (based on these vulnerabilities) may appear as we become more physically connected and return to work. It won’t be as simple as you might think. We have no idea how deep the psycho-social impact of the COVID-19 experience is going to be on people’s mindsets and behaviour.

Examples are already arising of how these vulnerabilities are impacting engagement and performance and ultimately could impact people returning to a physical workplace at an appropriate Alert Level. These include living with a ‘vulnerable’ person (on the basis of age and/or underlying health conditions), fear of being made redundant because their role has been labelled non-essential, a partner losing their job and associated income, loss of human connection and psychological safety so not speaking up and sharing feedback or ideas, negative impact on mental health and resilience including withdrawal and reduced engagement in meetings and on social/collaborative platforms, social anxiety about being with people outside their ‘bubble’ and gathering in groups, travelling on public transport with strangers, and the cleanliness of other people and places including their workplace.

These vulnerabilities aren’t just about whether people get sick with the virus or not. They’re also about how we face into deeply human challenges and make the most of the opportunities this time of immense change presents.

Stepping back and looking at ourselves and our lives through these four aspects of human vulnerability gives us an opportunity to do the best we can with what we have at the moment, to recognise with compassion the reality of others AND set in motion changes that prepare us ALL for a better future.

Next week we’ll look at INQUIRY and why being more curious and open to your own experience, and to that of other people (no matter how different they may seem), will help you better navigate the complexity of a COVID-19 world.


P.S: If you haven’t already, sign up to join our growing Fully Human Tribe HERE or at the bottom of this page and we’ll keep you posted with upcoming events, new thinking and development opportunities!