This week’s story on Platinum Rules for Success reveals a new paradigm in effective leadership: at every age, our most effective leaders do not shy from demonstrating they are capable of being vulnerable. As our global business world evolves, so do the trending realities and perceptions of leadership. One of our most popular writers and insightful consultants, Deb Calvert, shares what she’s discovered when leaders are STRONG ENOUGH to display they are vulnerable. In the past, leaders were expected to only demonstrate strength, and if they appeared vulnerable it was hidden from view. However expectations are changing quickly – in fact they are already here. Today’s business leaders who fail to demonstrate what Deb calls “human-ness”, will lose the respect of their teams and prove exponentially less effective. When leaders allow their employees to see they are, in-fact vulnerable, it serves as a reminder that we are all in this together. Suddenly the fear of stretching oneself to try new ideas, innovate and risk failure dissipates, making room for the organization to become more adaptable, progressive and profitable. Read Deb Calvert’s story to discover why and how today’s most effective leaders are strong enough to show they are vulnerable.
How Vulnerable Are You?
by Deb Calvert
L ast year, 20 of the top 25 highest-grossing movies featured characters with super-human powers or extraordinary talents. Invincible leads like T’Challa, Captain America, and Aquaman appeal to us because we place such a high value on strength.
But there is something different about the modern superhero. Even among the invincible, there is a decided vulnerability that we can all relate to. In fact, it is their very vulnerability that make popular superheroes and people like Freddie Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Jack and Ally (A Star Is Born) so appealing to all of us.
It is tricky to strike the right balance – being invincible without being invulnerable. The movie characters who have lost the very vulnerability that makes them human ultimately become the heartless, evil villains who exploit the good guys’ soft spots or vulnerabilities.
It makes for a good plot. But it is relevant for business leaders, too. In business circles and leadership development programs, the word “vulnerability” has been used a lot lately. It is casually used to describe how those who need to connect with others must first show their human-ness.
That is why it is not unusual these days to hear leaders talking about being vulnerable. We all understand, theoretically, that we are supposed to be vulnerable. However, it is rare to actually see leaders openly sharing in those moments when they actually feel vulnerable.
A few years ago, People First Productivity Solutions enlisted 28 guest bloggers to write about different facets of vulnerability. The objective was to show unique perspectives on the importance of being vulnerable as a leader.
I like the frank way John Choma, Super Bowl XVI Champion, tackled the subject. He said
“Let’s face it, choosing to be vulnerable is in direct conflict with the idea of survival of the fittest. It’s certainly counter-intuitive. It can be dangerous. Vulnerability opens us up to personal, social, vocational and possibly physical risk, harm, injury or even death. So why do some people choose to be vulnerable?”
That question is the essence of the discussion for any leader. After all, we are inundated with messages like “never let ‘em see you sweat” and “fake it ‘til you make it.” We are supposed to “act tough” and “hold our heads high” no matter what. Showing a weakness or admitting a gap in our abilities…There is no playbook for doing that. So we do not.
Instead, we adopt an air of invincibility, shrugging off what we do not know or cannot do as unimportant. We build defensive walls so we cannot be hurt by anything that might challenge our own strength. We ignore (and certainly do not invite) feedback that could help us improve.
As Dr. Barry Posner, co-author of The Leadership Challenge®, wrote in the series “While most individuals believe that constructive criticism is essential to their development, most feel uncomfortable giving it. Feedback makes us vulnerable.”
So we are left with a false sense of security. We do not open up ourselves, and we do not give feedback or support to others either, in a way that might make them feel vulnerable.
Collectively, we are fooling ourselves. Because, no matter what we say and no matter how we act, we are all vulnerable. Every single one of us has our own personal form of kryptonite. No one is immune to their own weakness.
So, why not embrace our vulnerabilities and use that element of human-ness as a strength? That is what the movie characters we admire most all struggle with and learn to do.
Why do some people choose to be vulnerable? Well, as Michael Lemon, Assistant Director at the Center for Public Partnerships & Research, says “the only alternative is to get comfortably numb to the world around us, (to) reject our humanness.”
That does not sound like leadership.
Being a leader requires the ability to connect with others. Which, in turn, requires human-ness. And, let’s face it, to be human is to be vulnerable.
To be vulnerable means “wearing your heart on the outside,” wrote one contributor to the series.
That level of exposure may sound downright scary, but every single facet of vulnerability our contributors explored also revealed benefits associated with becoming more vulnerable.
Dave Carter, a volunteer with Make-a-Wish, wrote “Emotional vulnerability connects you to yourself. It’s only when you put yourself in the position of being vulnerable, to make mistakes, to fail, to have ‘flaws’ that you can grow. When you open yourself up to being vulnerable or being hurt, you open yourself up to emotional growth.”
Australian sales speaker Bernadette McClelland enthused “I love the kind of vulnerability that lets you step off the edge, step into uncertainty and step up as someone new – a better, reinvented version of you. To me, vulnerability is all about re-invention.”
There are two additional benefits to being vulnerable worth mentioning here.
First, it is a relief to be vulnerable. It is liberating to stop pretending that you are invulnerable. It is easier to make your way through the day when you do not have to cover up what you do not know or cannot do. It is actually empowering to be authentic about your true strengths AND your current vulnerabilities.
Finally, when you show vulnerability, others will too. You will role model human-ness. You will give tacit permission for others to acknowledge their own weaknesses and, then, to seek support for growth in those areas. You will make it okay to take risks, to fail, to learn and to continually grow.
This is what leaders do. They create environments where people can grow. Leaders are human. They are not superheroes. Even if they were, they would come complete with the vulnerabilities that draw us in to their stories.
Once you have considered your own vulnerability and the benefits that come with it, try this: Admit to yourself, and then acknowledge to others, that there is something you are not able to do. Choose something that you have previously masked your discomfort or lack of expertise in doing. There is no need to apologize for it, just to bring it out into the open. But do not stop there. Take the next step and ask for help – help to learn more about it, to develop the skills for it or to get resources and support to do it.
Track the reactions and results you get now that you have put this vulnerability out there. Notice how others respond as if you are now stronger, more credible, more authentic and more approachable than before. Now you have got an answer to that question. Now you know why some people choose to be vulnerable.
Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions, has worked as a Corporate Director in a Fortune 500 company and as a consultant, coach and trainer to over 400 businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. Deb is a certified executive coach, one of the “65 Most Influential Women in Business,” an instructor at UC-Berkeley, and a Top 50 Sales Influencer. She is Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge®, conducting workshops and coaching to help liberate the leader in everyone. Her first book DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected has been named one of “The Top 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time” by HubSpot. Her second book, Stop Selling and Start Leading, is now available. You can learn more about Deb and PFPS at www.peoplefirstps.com
When you’re ready to equip your supervisors and sellers with strong people skills, contact People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting PEOPLE first.
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