I coach a lot of leaders who initially state that vulnerability does not belong in the workplace. In fact, they believe that if they are vulnerable and share select personal things about themselves bad things could happen. What bad things? The information about them could backfire and be used against them or they could be seen as weak or incompetent. I’ve heard my clients say that their team will take advantage of them if they let their guard down. While all of these outcomes are possible, it often does not happen that way. Vulnerability is actually a sign of strength and courage.
Think about the most impactful, powerful speaker you’ve seen at a conference. Were you wowed because they fired off new information that was useful to you but your sense of them is that they never struggled with getting to their expert status? Or, if you’ve had the experiences I have had hearing with powerful speakers you know there is a connection that’s made with the audience. That connection (because there is transparency, vulnerability and basic humanness) makes me feel like I can do it too. I too can struggle and come out winning. I can be imperfect and flawed, but still be successful.
What about the leader who makes a mistake that impacts the company? You are aware the mistake was made but the leader avoids talking about it with others and even hides the mistake in the hopes that no one notices. What message does that send? That it’s not OK to make mistakes and if you do, don’t let anyone know.
I had a coaching mentor who always said, “flaunt your flaws.” I took that to mean it’s OK to be open about who you are which includes strengths and weaknesses. None of us are great at everything and if you present as if you are you will not connect well with others. We can sense when someone is full of it and not being candid.
Brene Brown is a thought leader on vulnerability and I highly recommend her books and Ted Talks that highlight her research on this topic.
If you want to practice vulnerability in the workplace here are some suggestions:
1. Start with a trusted colleague and share something about yourself that you haven’t shared with anyone at work. It doesn’t have to be something huge but on a scale of 1-10, maybe a 6.
2. Be transparent about an area of professional development you are engaged in. For example, when I coach leaders and they are working on a specific skill like giving feedback, I have them tell their staff that they are working on this skill and will be asking for feedback on the feedback. It’s amazing how this openness increases feelings of safety on the team.
3. Think about a workplace skill you admire in someone at work and tell them that you respect that aspect of their work.
4. Remember, being vulnerable does not mean let it all hang out. It’s about sharing with the right audience who is deserving and has earned your trust. Be selective in your audience and timing.
How can you show your courage and strength by being vulnerable? Is there a small step around this you can try at work? I’d love to know how it works out.