The holiday season is behind us and we are back to our normal work routine. It gave me pause to reflect back on the past several weeks. This year I worked through the break, having taken my vacation earlier in the year. Normally I would find working through the holidays somewhat burdensome but this year was totally different. I found myself using this slower time of the year to have some slow, meaningful conversations with people. With both time and some solitude as the office wasn’t very busy, these conversations often penetrated through a few layers of the normal office shields we wear to protect our essential selves. They were great connections, and I look at them now and see how uncommon it is for us to reveal the true nature of ourselves to each other, especially within a work environment.
Why? Is it aversion to discomfort? Invasion of privacy? Not normal? Risk of rejection? Trust?
My thought is it may be all of those things but they roll up to one thing … we fear being vulnerable.
One of the most influential things I’ve ever been exposed to is Brené Brown’s work on this topic. Brené is a social researcher at the University of Houston and has spent her life studying emotions such as shame, and how we develop resilience to such emotions. In the course of her work she isolated the concept of vulnerability as a key indicator. People who were comfortable with being vulnerable were less likely to be affected by
this very powerful and sometimes debilitating emotion of shame. Those people didn’t actually say they liked being vulnerable, or that they thought that vulnerability was either good or bad. They just said it was necessary. For those of you that have not seen Brené’s TED talk on this topic I have included it at the bottom of this post. Brené is all of entertaining, insightful and beautifully human and vulnerable in this talk.
What I really learned from vulnerability is that when we accept the necessity of vulnerability and allow ourselves to be so, this is actually an act of acceptance that we are happy with who we are. In other words, if we are happy with who we are then we become more comfortable with showing our true selves to others … being vulnerable.
In discussing these concepts with people who share my passion for this Essential Journey, we sometimes add the concept of trust into this equation, as in “I’m okay with being vulnerable as long as I trust the others involved”. But as we talk it through further, we discover that if being vulnerable is actually a reflection of our own acceptance of ourselves a precondition of trust may be contradictory. By no means am I advocating that we open ourselves up to people who have proven unworthy of that trust, but I am asking us to consider that for the vast majority of people who we have no rational reason to distrust, is there a value in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and allowing ourselves to share our true selves with others? What good might come of that?
For us as individual members of society, here are some possible benefits that have occurred to me:
- I get to be myself, which inherently lowers my stress level.
- Vulnerability allows me to say things like “I don’t know” or “I’m not so good at that” which may invite opportunities to learn or offers to help.
- By doing so I invite those I am connecting with to do the same, allowing for a more meaningful exchange.
- I get to say what I really like or don’t like which increases my odds of being involved with things I like.
Now what if we apply this concept to our role as a leader? How can allowing ourselves to be vulnerable increase the engagement and performance of our teams? What will those on our team think when we say things like “I don’t know” or “I’m not good at that” or “I’m struggling how to deal with this issue”?
How about some of the following possibilities?
- People see you as an approachable leader and you develop closer, more trust based relationships with your team.
- Your team really appreciates the opportunity to contribute and their “try level” increases to match the level of this new stimulus.
- When you allow yourself to admit that you need support you will show confidence in your team to provide that support, and those team members will gain valuable skills and experience.
- Your stress level goes down, as described above.
- You set a great example about the value of vulnerability and hopefully see this circle of connection expand.
Treat yourself to Brené Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability”. You won’t regret the investment! And then I invite you to come back to this post and share your thoughts. Let’s start a discussion on this!!