I am a big fan of Dr Brené Brown’s work. Learning from her has transformed my mindset around vulnerability and failure. Her work has influenced the building of my own character, resulting in a greater sense of grounding in who I am and how I show up.
In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Dr. Brené Brown writes, “Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. (2) 1” She goes on to say, “Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly. (Brown 2) 1”
Over the next few weeks, I invite you to challenge your mindset around being vulnerable. Push beyond what you think is possible for you and risk being more vulnerable.
This is part 1 of the 3-part series on Being Vulnerable by Diana Gabriel, Certified Strengths Strategy Coach.Vulnerability awareness is reversing negative thinking and fears about it and revealing its benefits. Click To Tweet
As a leader, have you experienced the benefits of being vulnerable or working for someone who models courageous vulnerability?
The traditional definition of vulnerability is: The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
Most people in business understand these definitions and avoid vulnerability at all costs. Nowhere does this have more impact than in leadership circles.
However, recent research in leadership has exposed many old ways of thinking as outdated myths, ineffective, and damaging. With today’s emphasis on human relations, authentic employee engagement, and softer leadership skills, greater emphasis is being placed on interpersonal connection and consideration for people.
Why? Because we’ve learned that employee satisfaction is paramount to organizational success. People simply shut down or leave if they don’t feel appreciated. Harsh, impersonal leadership styles are changing to accountable, considerate acts of empowerment where people are individualized and supported. Cold, impersonal leaders are being challenged to show more humility and vulnerability.
One of the more challenging soft skills many leaders
False Notions of Vulnerability
In my work as a coach, I often see how the word vulnerability generating negative reactions in leaders because of past experiences and the myths surrounding vulnerability.
Leaders have witnessed vulnerable situations fail to go well. To protect themselves they do what they can to avoid this. They fear that vulnerability will expose their weaknesses or mistakes, potentially leading to criticism of their abilities and character.
When you’re a leader and believe that criticism reflects negatively on you, numerous fears naturally come to mind. You may fear your worth or value in your organization is diminished, which ultimately leads to you feeling devalued. You start to envision that you are appreciated less, trusted less, and not likely to be viewed as capable of handling challenges. In other words, you fear your career could be restricted. You begin to see everything through the lens of fear.
As Emma Seppälä describes in What Bosses Gain by Being Vulnerable 2, vulnerability often tends to be seen as a weakness. Leaders can be seen as being unknowledgeable or incapable, unconfident, soft or ineffective. Typical scenarios of vulnerability for leaders include:
- Promoting a new project that doesn’t succeed because of inaccurate assumptions.
- Misjudging someone’s proposal and realizing the error.
- Needing help from a colleague when the relationship is damaged or strained.
- Trusting the unproven skills of a key team member on an important project.
- Applying principles learned in a prior field that don’t really work in a new field.
In spite of all of that the most successful leaders have learned that these kinds of seemingly vulnerable situations don’t need to be interpreted as a weakness at all. Everyone makes mistakes and it takes a lot of courage to own up to them.
Being transparent about what you need, being honest and up-front about mistakes reflects on your inner strength that doesn’t rely on the approval of others, but rather confidence in oneself. It is the backbone of building strong character.
Awareness of the value of soft leadership skills such as vulnerability is reversing negative thinking and fears about being vulnerable and revealing its benefits.
I’m curious to hear about your experiences with being vulnerable. What false notions have you held about being vulnerable? Who do you know that boldly models courageous vulnerability? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.
1 Brown Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin Books Ltd, 2015.
2 Seppälä, Emma, and Harvard Business Review. “What Bosses Gain by Being Vulnerable.” Harvard Business Review, 11 Dec. 2014, hbr.org/2014/12/what-bosses-gain-by-being-vulnerable.