The importance of vulnerability

It is so hard to be vulnerable.  Especially at work.  When you choose to lead, or you are chosen to lead, the best way to do that is with vulnerability.  What do we mean by vulnerability?  Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and storyteller says, “we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.”  That is vulnerability.

The funny thing about vulnerability is that we think we can hide our vulnerabilities from others, and yet it is so often the first thing that people see in us.  Because we think we are protecting our vulnerabilities we end up revealing them when we aren’t paying attention.  When we get tired, or stressed, or emotional, our vulnerabilities pop up and we forget to protect them.  By embracing our vulnerabilities and sharing them with others, we can start to acknowledge those parts of ourselves.  Other people can support us and encourage us to embrace who we are.  And in return, we can embrace other people’s vulnerabilities.

Isn’t it funny when you know something, but it is so hard to do? Intellectually I understand that vulnerability is critical to being a successful leader, but it is scary.  During one of the leadership programs I facilitated I “accidently” showed my vulnerability.  I had lost my father the summer prior, and had just been back to visit my stepmother at their house.  It was Father’s Day and the memories of my times there with him were special.  One of my vulnerabilities is showing emotion.  I am a sensitive soul and I protect that part of me by building walls.  While I was setting up an exercise about leadership journeys I referenced my father.  Because the pain was so raw and recent I became emotional and started to cry.

I try very hard not to cry at work.  It does not show strength.  And yet, for this group it cracked open a vein of vulnerability that many people stepped into.  The shift in the group was palpable.  People shared stories with each other that they had not told many others, and I was not the only one who cried during the session.  The result was that those who were willing to take the courageous step and be vulnerable with their peers received so much more than those who did not. And I also received so much more from the group for showing my vulnerability.

That doesn’t mean it is easy.  It is always a risk to open up to other people (whether at work or not) and share your authentic self.  And if you aren’t comfortable doing that you need to examine why – is it about you, or is it about the environment that you are in?  Either way you have the ability to choose how you will respond.  I hope it is with vulnerability.

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