You Have to Be Vulnerable Before You Feel Empowered



Earlier this month, I had one of the best weeks of my life. I spent three days at the Tory Burch Headquarters in New York for the immersion into the Tory Burch Fellowship that all of you helped me win. It was an incredible experience – filled with mentorship, networking and education with top executives, business owners, entrepreneurs, investors and the media. A total whirlwind, as you can imagine – and one that revolved around the topic of empowerment. So much so that at Tory Burch Headquarters, it’s framed on the wall: “Empowered women empower women.” Since I’ve been back in Richmond, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an empowered leader and how to run an empowered company.

Surprisingly, I found that empowerment starts with vulnerability.


  1. Recognize the vulnerabilities in your business, because those opportunities can change an industry.

So what does that mean for marketing, specifically? Most people agree that the ad industry is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. Companies want creative thinking to market their products, but they don’t want to pay big bucks for traditional ad campaigns, and they don’t want to navigate the multiple layers of traditional agencies. Agencies know this, but they’re having a hard time restructuring themselves to work in new ways. It makes for tenuous relationships and undue stress.

Some may see this as the time to get out of advertising. At Dotted Line, we see this vulnerability as an opportunity to reinvent advertising, and we’re leading the charge to do things differently. We eschewed the traditional agency model, choosing instead to work with a core team surrounded by experts. We feel this makes advertising more collaborative, “scrappy” and focused on creative problem-solving. It ensures that the right minds are tackling the right problems, without the typical slowdowns experienced at big agencies.


  1. Vulnerability disappears when you change perceptions. To some, “scrappy” may suggest a lack of resources or finesse. At Dotted Line, we see scrappy as the pinnacle of creativity, because we’re changing its perception.

Scrappy doesn’t mean cheap. It means taking a creative approach to communications, business models, timelines and problem-solving. Most of all, it means using teamwork and having the courage to try new things. “Scrappy” turns heads and conquers new territory. And luckily, it’s more in line with what clients need. Tory Burch said to me, “I encourage my brand and marketing teams to think differently in their approach to our brand. Can you and your teams be scrappy?” At that moment, I knew I was meant to be there.


  1. Promote vulnerability among your employees and reward them for taking risks.

Among the group of entrepreneurs and investors in attendance at the immersion session, it was evident that everyone there had taken – and continues to take – major risks. Doing so makes you feel very vulnerable, but it also makes you more innovative.

As an employer, it’s important to create an environment in which it’s ok to experiment and make mistakes. As long as you communicate a strong vision throughout your company (something I noticed Tory Burch prioritizes), your team will feel better about making themselves vulnerable when contributing new ideas and thinking of new ways to do things.

At Dotted Line, we’re in the people business. Our ideas can only be amazing because of the people who come up with them. Our teams must connect to people in authentic and empowering ways, and that connection will never happen if we have a team of robots who are programmed to never feel vulnerable.


  1. Make yourself vulnerable. Then see how strong you feel when you climb out of it.

This one’s the kicker. I went into the week at Tory’s headquarters with mixed emotions: utter excitement and optimism, coupled with some self-doubt. What a big stage, filled with top entrepreneurs! But after a week full of pitching – my agency, our region, and especially myself – I began to believe it all. The self-doubt fell away, and I was left invigorated and fully focused on the opportunities ahead. All because I let myself feel vulnerable. I had to prove myself – to myself. That’s what empowerment really feels like.


Vulnerability leads to unshakeable confidence that makes people believe in what you do – and, in turn, what they do. It’s this confidence and drive that lead to rapid growth. And isn’t that what we all want? Ultimately, I want Dotted Line to help leading brands have an amazing impact on their customers and do it in a way that creates far-reaching networks of curious, determined, fulfilled individuals.

In the spirit of vulnerability, today I say that we don’t have the magic bullet. And that’s ok. It’s better. Because it makes us work harder, smarter and more creatively to make work that works. To make work that reflects the people and passion behind it. Work that empowers consumers because it’s flecked with the sensibilities of the truly empowered team that created it.


Lauren Cox Sweeney founder and CEO of Dotted Line Collaborations

Lauren Sweeney is the Founder and CEO of Dotted Line Collaborations, full-service advertising and branding agency solving big brand problems from our headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. When Lauren’s not providing strategic direction for the firm or delivering amazing results for our clients, Lauren is outdoors enjoying all that Richmond has to offer or traveling to a new and exciting destination.

To read more about our firm’s recent work, visit


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