Demystifying Vulnerability

Two years ago I had the opportunity to do some professional development at a week long intensive “school” put on by our governing body.  This experience definitely helped me to grow in many ways as a professional.  But there was one part of that week that will stick with me for probably the remainder of my career.

I went into this week really excited as a mentor of mine from Grad school was going to be there as a facilitator.  This mentor was someone who I always appreciated having a conversation with because he was always straight to the point and real about any situation that arose.  I always saw him in the light of being a strong person and a more silent leader within our workplace. During the week, he was in charge of leading a session on vulnerability.  This was the first time in 4 years of knowing him that I had seen him get emotional and open up about something that was hard for him to talk about, and just flat out be vulnerable.  He shared an experience he had on campus when the department did 360-degree evaluations.  Expecting to receive positive feedback from his co-workers and others completing the evaluation, he was shocked to find out that many of the people who worked for him deemed him unapproachable.  And as he told his story, his voice cracked and he struggled through the emotions. In this moment, I saw him in a different light and through this lens of vulnerability, we saw a new dimension of leadership take over that room.  Since then, I have not been afraid to show emotions with my co-workers and my students.  I am more comfortable being vulnerable because someone I looked up to was comfortable enough to show that in front of 50 people he just met.

So over the past couple of years, I have had this concept of being vulnerable in a leadership position constantly somewhere in the back of my mind as I go about my daily responsibilities.  I notice the fleeting moments of emotions from other co-workers, student leaders, and mentors more easily and I notice how and when students respond to this.  Recently I stumbled across an article on Forbes online The Best Leaders are Vulnerable by David K. Williams. The author talked about an interview with Brene Brown and her 4 myths of vulnerability.  The basic message from this:
“Vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen.” – Brene Brown

Myth #1 Vulnerability is Weakness

When asked to share a time when they felt vulnerable, respondents in Brown’s research shared things like “Starting my own business, “ “Own something I have done wrong at work” and other similarly stated experiences.  Brown realized that the answers did not demonstrate weakness but rather exemplified courage.  

Myth #2 You Can Opt Out of Vulnerability

According to the article, Brown states that Vulnerability is a combination of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  This connects with a session I went to at the Annual conference a couple weeks ago about Strategic Leadership and one of the main takeaways there was in times of uncertainty we need to take risks in order to move our programs forward.

Myth #3 Vulnerability Means Letting it all Hang Out

It seems that the misconception here is people thinking that by being vulnerable as a person or an organization, you are committing to sharing every last detail about your life and company with everyone.  All the feelings, all the details just out on the table. Brown suggests that sharing the candid information that leaves you vulnerable only with people who have earned the right to hear it.  You can be selective, it isn’t all or nothing.

Myth #4 I Can Go It Alone

We aren’t expected to be able to do everything on our own.  One thing I ALWAYS try to teach my students and also express to any coworkers or colleagues who have a tendency to get overwhelmed is to ask for help and not to be afraid to ask for help.  The article explains that asking for help is really being vulnerable in a courageous and positive way.

TAKEAWAYS

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