What comes to mind when you think of vulnerability?
Strength? Authenticity? Boldness? Courage?
Probably not. Society has long portrayed vulnerability as weakness, unreliability or uncertainty.
Especially in business, where classic leadership is represented by stern, unbending and authoritative experts and vulnerability is grossly undervalued.
Times are changing, as are the verbiage surrounding modern leadership: words like collaboration, values, balance and flat organizational structures (rather than hierarchical).
As many great businesspeople and authors of our time can attest, Brené Brown being the most well-known, vulnerability is an incredible strength and tool for connection. But opening ourselves up in this way does not require us to be emotional, out of control or out of character. It may, however, make us uncomfortable.
When it comes to vulnerability and leadership, a little discomfort goes a long way in inspiring, connecting and collaborating. Here’s how.
The Courage to Lead
The courage to lead is all about vulnerability. To be seen and heard, to step up, take responsibility, share ideas — none of these actions are “safe.” Staying quiet, taking a back seat, bottling up your feelings will always seem like the easier, more peaceful option.
The leaders of yesteryear were masters of critique, which demands almost no vulnerability. The leaders of tomorrow are masters of collaboration.
Vulnerability is defined as exposure to physical or emotional harm. In terms of leadership, we will define it as exposing your ego to injury. And what’s more courageous than that?
Where vulnerability thrives, the ego will dim. Vulnerability increases connection, ego increases denial and isolation.
Before embarking on the path toward vulnerability it’s important to accept the discomfort, the byproduct of birth and growth. If the path feels easy, it’s probably because you’re going downhill. Here is where you’ll need to dig deep for the courage to lead.
Here’s the paradox: leading with vulnerability results in powerful leadership, leading without it produces vulnerable leadership.
1. Authentic Leadership
An authentic leader is fully rooted in reality, not denial or ego. He or she can recognize and articulate the facts, unclouded by any ego-driven narrative or false sense of self. A company steered by authenticity fosters a culture where mistakes can be freely admitted and collaboratively rectified.
Ideas can be shared without fear and improvements can be suggested without defensiveness. As a leader or as an employee being genuine is an asset — notice we said nothing about being perceived as genuine. When your motives are genuine, those around you will feel connected and inspired by your transparent intentions.
Authenticity naturally triggers engagement. Conveying substance, emotion and doubt, turns your “staff” into a team.
2. Connected Leadership
How can a team possibly engage with a fake facade?
Next time you are at work and find yourself embarrassed, threatened or offended, observe where your thoughts and emotions go. Chances are they go to a negative, constricted, combative place.
Being authentic and vulnerable does not mean that you let those feelings loose. Acknowledge how your feelings, at least to yourself, and where they caused your thoughts to go. Does that reaction align with your values? How would your heroes or mentors react?
Vulnerability gives you the strength to respond to embarrassment or other perceived attacks with calm and honesty because protecting an image is no longer your priority. Without this level of self awareness, you react with fleeting emotions rather than responding from a place of wisdom.
So, vulnerability, while bringing you closer to your emotions, leaves you more in control of your behavior and thinking patterns. It’s a skill that takes time and practice to develop. But once you’ve mastered vulnerability, you’ll find that other areas of your life, all of which rely on human connection, fall into place.
3. Trustworthy Leadership
Yes, emotional exposure is scary, but it’s the ultimate courage, and it won’t go unnoticed.
Hide yourself and your truth, and you only inspire fear and doubt.
Expose your doubts, articulate your concerns and ask questions, and you inspire trust. Deep down, we all know that every human being on this planet experiences emotions. Locking yours away, fools nobody.
Trust is a two-way street that is earned and grown from shared experiences based on truth. If you are not honest with your team, they will not be honest with you and “team” becomes just another title. True teamwork feeds on a culture that protects those who not only have the courage to lead, but to also be vulnerable.
The courage to lead means stepping into emotional exposure and showing employees that they can safely do the same. Many of us have worked in companies that demanded collaboration and cooperation on paper, but maintained leadership practices that showed the opposite.
Your followers will not do as you say. They will do as you do. So show them that vulnerability is valued and respected. From this foundation you can begin to build priceless loyalty that will strengthen your team and your company from the inside out.
The power of vulnerability
The benefits of sharing your truth, your ideas and your feelings extend far beyond one article. The power of vulnerability is multifold and will manifest itself, not just in your professional life but in every relationship and interpersonal interaction. With time, authenticity will become your default, informing your decision making and inspiring those who look up to you.
Remember, vulnerability is the opposite of perfection, because one is real and the other is an illusion — a social construct perpetuated by contrived messaging, unrealistic advertising and carefully sculpted social media profiles.
Now, more than ever, the world needs the antidote: true authenticity which only comes by being vulnerable. How refreshing would it be if we lived in a world without pretense?
Be vulnerable & find the courage to lead from there. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Are you ready to start down the path toward fully owning your life — a life you love?
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Omozua is a Certified Emotional Mastery & Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach who empowers & prepares clients’ hearts & heads to take the journey from where they are to where they want to be by bravely accessing their own potential.