The conventional understanding of of vulnerability is all about being exposed- to attack, to be hurt physically or emotionally. Its most commonly used synonyms are in the areas of being helpless, defenceless, feeble and passive. No wonder it’s not a very welcome word for most of us.
In our work lives, we are taught to be anything but vulnerable as leaders – and with good reason. Who would want to want or demonstrate any of the above?
Turns out that these are probably the more superficial definitions of vulnerability. Some of the overlooked but equally relevant synonyms are openness, receptivity & sensitivity. Don’t these sound more like traits that leaders of today are expected to have?
Also, research is increasingly saying that vulnerability is an intrinsic part of being human. The feelings of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure, while not always easy to accept, are second nature to us. They’re something that we all have to live with and learn to harness to our advantage.
Researcher-storyteller and author Brene Brown, (in her pioneering work Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we Live, Love, Parent & Lead) says: ‘Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences’
She goes on to debunk a few myths related to vulnerability:
- Vulnerability is a weakness: To feel is to be vulnerable. So if we’re looking at vulnerability as a weakness, we’re probably considering feeling human emotions to be a weakness.
- To be vulnerable is to be cowardly: On the other hand, it takes courage to be vulnerable – to reach out, open out and ask for help. Sometimes even from within ourselves.
- Some people don’t or can’t experience vulnerability: Every one feels vulnerable at some point or another, it is not a choice we are able to make. The choice is in how we respond to when we’re feeling vulnerable. Many of us choose to close ourselves to how we’re truly feeling.
- Vulnerability means letting out our secrets: Sharing our innermost feelings with anyone is not always easy. Forget with someone that we don’t know very well, our family or people who work for us. But in reality, we’re showing those who’ve earned our trust, that we’re human, open and accessible. And also imperfect.
- We can go solo: Acknowledging our vulnerabilities does not mean we can manage without support around us. Asking for help, support, advice or perspective makes us more inclusive, human and open. Not to mention making us more courageous.
Increasingly, the paradigm of leadership is moving away from stoic, shock-absorber, autocrat, visionaries to more human, emotional, imperfect and accessible. In short, from those in denial of their vulnerabilities to those who look at the positives and harness it to their (and their organization’s) advantage.
Which leadership camp do you belong to?