Vulnerability is a Strength | Jackie Crispin Brown
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jackie crispin brown

At the mention of vulnerability, some of you have already skipped this blog!  Vulnerability can conjure all sorts of experiences we’re keen not to repeat. The time you bared your soul, only to have it turned against you.  You were encouraged to share opinions openly in a team forum, only to receive the silent treatment…. You might even recall a time when you shared your “undying love” in high school and was rejected – vulnerability doesn’t always feel good. Why does it come with the ‘authentic leader’ package? Vulnerability can enhance your leadership!

Vulnerability is about exposing something about yourself where you feel there is a risk of being hurt.  It might be exposing a weakness, sharing a personal story, even for some, asking for help or acknowledging a mistake.

Being an authentic leader means:

  • Believing that the greatest value you bring comes from working with the unique package that you are, warts and all, (and believing that of others too)
  • Being guided by a strong internal sense of right and wrong
  • Purposeful direction
  • Having awareness of the impace you have on those around you
  • Bringing balance to your considerations
  • Appropriately transparent in your relationships
  • Continuing to explore what it means to be all you can as a leader, continuing to learn and grow

Vulnerability and authentic leadership have an intimate relationship.

Increasing self awareness and self acceptance is core to authentic leadership. These capabilities foster a solid sense of self worth and better enables us to manage ourselves.  It’s this internal work we do first as leaders that shows up in our relationship with others and it’s through relationships that authentic leaders create engagement.  Being self in an intelligent, aware, intentional way creates the space for others to be more authentic.  Of course when this open, honest, engaging relationship develops an employee or colleague feels valued and encouraged.  The conversations become constructive and open to feedback.  And this leads to a willingness to contribute fully, be creative, grow and participate actively as a team mate.  In short, engaging others in real, honest, transparent relationships leads to greater productivity, better outcomes.

So now to close the loop back to vulnerability. In engaging authentically in relationships, we open the possibility of being vulnerable – showing strengths and weaknesses, sharing opinions, being open to being wrong, sharing stories of your experience, demonstrating your values. Being more comfortable with ourselves, we are much more likely to be open and vulnerability looses some of its uncomfortable edge. Being appropriately, thoughtfully vulnerable builds trust with others.  It enhances the relationship, making it safe for others to show some vulnerability too.

I want to be clear, I am not talking about naive vulnerability:  revealing deep personal stories all the time, when the risk of pain is high, and the value to the other person is low or choosing the major client presentation as opportune to share that weakness about presentations.  Or in a crisis choosing to share your fears with those looking to you for direction.

Vulnerability is not an ‘all or nothing” proposition.  It is a capability, like courage that we grow with practice. Think of vulnerability on a scale of 1 – 10. You may only reach 10, from time to time in 1 or 2 intimate relationships.  With every relationship and situation the degree of vulnerability you think appropriate will vary.

Why do we want to be vulnerable?  The question really is “Why do we want to bring more of ourselves into our leadership?”  We do it to be more effective.

So maybe the most important question is how do we do vulnerability well?  Some suggestions:

  • Think back to the scale 1 – 10, how would you score your current ability to be vulnerable in your leadership? How are you doing? To enhance some relationships, do you need to practice more vulnerability?  Which relationships and in what way would you demonstrate greater vulnerability?
  • Choose supportive relationships to practice in
  • Ask yourself, “Will demonstrating vulnerability enhance the relationship?”
  • Do a little, reflect on the experience and continue to practice
  • Take small, considered steps
  • Notice when it’s easiest – with whom, under what circumstances, revealing what?  Learn from this and keeping doing more.
  • Be kind to yourself, ensure the discomfort does not translate to sheer pain

So how has vulnerability enhanced your leadership?  I would like to share some of your stories in the next blog!

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