When you first hear the word vulnerability there are likely to be several negative connotations that come to mind. The word is closely related to shame, fear of rejection and grief which, to many, justifies a want to conceal vulnerability as much as possible. But what if your vulnerability could be used as a strength?
Vulnerability is a part of all of our lives, whether we like it or not. Many of us learn that the best way to defend ourselves against it is to master the art of denial; pretending that we don’t care about situations or that we never wanted that promotion anyway. This guarded approach prevents you from reaching your full potential, or worse, it can cause you to internalise your failures and develop habits of self-blame. It can be difficult to approach, but how do you feel once you have asked for help? Actions as simple as sitting down with a close friend to talk through a problem or sharing workload with a colleague give us a sense of clarity and reprieve. If emotions are not properly processed and addressed they increase stress levels, lower our self-esteem and create a sense of disconnection and distrust with those around us.
“To make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” - Criss Jami
If you’re constantly guarded and afraid of showing emotion it makes it impossible to be your authentic self. Your vulnerabilities are part of who you are. Accepting difficult emotions and working through them will allow you to better react to challenging situations and recover from setbacks quicker, meaning there’s more time for feelings of joy, excitement and fulfilment! Developing this skill not only affords yourself a greater degree of freedom but it also improves your empathy for others.
Empathy is a key aspect of leadership and when we talk about vulnerability it isn’t just about showing your emotions; you should still be cautious of oversharing in certain situations. Being vulnerable is more about self-awareness and observing opportunities to connect with others in a way that builds the relationship and fosters trust. Something as easy as adapting your body language has a huge effect, relaxing your posture and keeping your arms unfolded tells others that you are more open, subconsciously encouraging them to do the same. Being more self-aware makes you a better communicator and a compassionate listener which are both key to working collaboratively. Research shows that more compassionate leaders perform better and cultivate more loyalty and engagement within teams. In difficult times, approaching any problem with compassion, transparency and vulnerability will build a strong foundation of trust amongst your colleagues.
When there is a strong culture of trust in an organisation it is much easier to put yourself in vulnerable situations. Examples of these could be talking about your failures or taking a chance which may lead to rejection - to reach your full potential you must be willing to take risks! These opportunities are a great way to build confidence and resilience, they give you the chance to learn from feedback and come back stronger and allow others to learn from your mistakes.
“When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity” – Dr Brene Brown
When observed in these ways, vulnerability is a source of empowerment. It allows you to be authentic and develop your empathy, compassion, self-awareness, confidence and resilience which are key qualities of an excellent leader. We know that we all have flaws and moments of weakness but sometimes we get so wrapped up in concealing them that we forget that there is a strength in embracing these. After all, they are what allow us to grow and be understood by those around us.