Courage to be vulnerable
“I need your help.” Trevor couldn’t believe that the words had come out of his mouth and as he finished saying them, they seemed to echo around the room in an eery silence as if time had stood still in that moment. He couldn’t believe that he was saying them. He had always been taught that a leader needed to be strong, set the vision and take people there with confidence. And so, to hear his voice ringing out those words he couldn’t help but feel weak. A sea of faces looked at him.
“I can’t do this by myself and I need your help.”
He then explained the things he was struggling with and how he needed their help.
There, he had done it. His sense of vulnerability pumping in time with his heart. This organisation had turned out to be more than he could chew and it was in fact chewing him up and trying to spit him out. He didn’t know if his plea for help would work, but it was all that he had.
It is fascinating, working with leaders. So many have this lie of leadership, that you have to ‘be strong’ and not admit weakness. This is not in the leadership manual, in fact ‘being strong’ can be a dangerous mindset to have as a leader. It is true that as leaders we need courage. In fact, this series explains the array of courage that we need. This week is the turn of the ‘courage to be vulnerable’. Courage, as Brene Brown puts it, has an inexplicable dance with vulnerability. To be courageous we need to step into vulnerability, take a risk. To step into vulnerability, we need courage. Courage is not the big, bold, brash actions with no fear. Courage is knowing the challenge and then doing it anyway.
Trevor’s action is one example of true courage, of vulnerability. The ability to admit that you are struggling. The funny thing is, that often people know it already, they see you are. When we step into vulnerability and admit it, then we show authenticity. People see your words matching your actions. Authenticity then breads trust. Trust leads to safety. Safety in turn leads to them being vulnerable with you. A culture of trust and vulnerability leads to learning and growth.
As a leader and as a coach, we cannot underestimate the power of safety. Abraham Maslow, highlighted it as one of the foundation stones that need to be in place for someone to ‘self-actualise’, to problem solve and be creative. When we create a culture of safety, people can be free to express ideas and solve things without the fear of recrimination. A culture of safety enables people to feel free to make mistakes, to learn and grow from them. And the most powerful of all tools to help create this is vulnerability. When as leaders, we have the courage to be vulnerable, to admit our areas of weakness, errors, worries, we create a vulnerability loop, where others feel safe to do the same.
“I struggle with public speaking.” Or “I get things wrong sometimes.” Imagine a leader saying those things. What does it then make it ok for the members of their team to do? It makes it safe to be themselves. It makes it safe to make mistakes or worry about speaking or to share times when they feel it too. It then allows them to seek advice and guidance. In turn this enables them to get better or gain support to make the outcome better.
You may have read this far and be wondering what the impact on the leader of being vulnerable, of admitting weakness or asking for help is. Surely, it just makes you look weaker? And there is the wonderful beauty of vulnerability. The irony is that by showing vulnerability we are more authentic. Being authentic builds trust and this can build up the support for us as leaders.
Trevor could never have guessed the chain reaction and impact that his statement would have had. That night before he left, 3 of the team came to his office and thanked him for his honesty. 2 others popped their head in and said that they were up for the fight and challenge of standing with him to improve the organisation and told him the ways they planned to help. By the following day the rest of his senior team came to him with a plan on how they were going to lead in each of their areas to turn this around. Vulnerability had brought him his team back. He was not alone.
Everyday Leader is here to inspire and equip you. If you would like to explore the power of vulnerability, you may benefit from coaching with us. Do let us know if we can be of help to you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.