The Value of Vulnerability

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

No vulnerability issues here!!
No vulnerability issues here!!

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.
"I don't know" ... how to get out of this maze.
“I don’t know” … how to get out of this maze.

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!!

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

20 thoughts on “The Value of Vulnerability

  1. Coincidences. But maybe it is not.
    I read your post then reached for my copy of Brené Brown’s book on my bed side table. It was within reach. It is the only book on that table at this time. I read it two years ago and it changed me.

    M

    1. Thanks for adding your voice to this Michel. I give Brene the same credit in understanding who I am … The two most important things I’ve learned in this journey is to love who I am and accept that it is okay to let other people see me … warts and all.

  2. Hi Ian, I came here via Louise and just love this post! I have been happiest when I allow myself to be vulnerable and I have been the least happy when I haven’t, particularly in work situations. I have to continually remind myself who I am and to be true to that statement. I like where you say when we are vulnerable we are more likely to be involved in the things we like. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  3. Ian, I know even as a teacher there are times that vulnerability is necessary, especially when we are asking students to be vulnerable everyday! Show me what you can do in Math? On a test show me what you know? I want you to paint, even though you haven’t much practice. I have learned that if I want to get more… I need to give more. As a teacher, I am happy (when it lends itself to the conversation) to tell a personal story about my kids or family or about myself. I think the students appreciate this because you become more human Some people may want their private life separate, but there is no shame in letting kids know who you are. They feel safer knowing you let them know a bit more about you rather than just the role as an educator.

    Love your sister in law!

    1. Thanks for adding your thoughts Kolese! And I especially value your perspective as a teacher … In this role it is so important that kids see that vulnerability is a valuable approach in life.

      Love back from your B-I-L!!

  4. This post is timely for me as I struggle with the terms of my divorce settlement which will probably involve me taking over our business on my own with a large debt-load and me pondering as to how I can manage when I am feeling so crushed inside. How can I become the ‘strong’ leader that is required to survive? How can I be an inspiration to my staff? Your post opens up the door for me to not only allow myself to be vulnerable, but that vulnerability is a hidden strength. This has lifted my spirits. Thank you.

    1. Elizabeth thank you for this contribution. You are so right that it can be a key method of engaging with your team. By showing our humanity, we invite others to do what is natural and help/contribute.

  5. I’m glad Diana led me here! I love Brené Brown, and have listened to that TedTalk over and over. In fact, I used it as the basis for my post that earned me my freshly pressed statu! I will continue to fight the good fight of risking vulnerability, and will definitely be reading this blog!

  6. I haven’t thought about ‘life’ from the perspective of vulnerability, but it is a refreshing and necessary perspective. We’re afraid of vulnerability because we believe it is a sign of weakness, and yet, the opposite is true. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a sign of great strength and courage. What a terrific post! Cheers!

    1. I respectfully disagree. At the end of your third sentence, you are back to strength and courage. The point is about what it means/what good may come from showing/admitting weakness.

      1. Awesome Michel. I think we’re saying the same thing in a different way, because I think the good that comes from it is the strength and courage it takes to admit our weaknesses. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for continuing the message Fred. I enjoyed the post … and the visual about being naked in Times Square. I’m not sure I’ve got that kind of vulnerability in me!

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