I was talking with a client, discussing key aspects to successful leadership when the conversation shifted from the routine themes of execution and ‘walking the floor’ to the topic of ‘vulnerability’. It occurred to me that this is one of the most integral aspects to leadership and for that matter an essential quality of living. I know that’s a big statement, but give me four minutes to make my point.
According to Shelley Provost (http://www.inc.com/shelley-prevost/the-one-leadership-skill-that-will-set-you-apart.html) “Vulnerability is when you can give honest appraisals of a person or situation. Saying what you really think isn’t always easy. If fortified with compassion, however, it can be the quickest route to building trust with another person.”
In 2006, I could be found wandering through the corporate corridors advocating Agile Project Management. It was not merely a way to bring revenue to my organization, but rather the foundation in which to transform the corporate ethos and behavior living within organizations. I was a bit of a zealot, advocating the adoption of the Thomsett Agile Project Management model, built on powerful principles of Openness, Honesty, Trust and Courage.
My view is that if an organization can introduce these values as part of the approach to project delivery and execution…they can’t help but be successful, even if a project fails. Because the adoption of this approach challenges so much of the existing internal behavior, a leader (sponsor) will have to allow herself to be ‘vulnerable’. So the real leadership question is, when do we step into the land of vulnerability?
Shelley goes on to say,”You don’t have to be vulnerable with everyone–that would be exhausting–just with people who matter. Your family. Your business partners. Your girlfriend. Vulnerability is taking a risk, stepping into the emotional unknown, and exposing who you really are. You’re comfortable showing your deficits as well as your assets.”
We are taught as leaders that we have to be right and this is a stark contrast to willingly exposing ourselves through vulnerability. Leadership often flies in the face of being who you genuinely are in favor of who you think you should be.
Brene Brown (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html) in the Power of Vulnerability talks about the power of transparency and wholeheartedness. Through her research she goes down the path of examining those who are most content. Her research highlights that those who have a sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging and believe they are worthy of love and belonging, generally have a richer experience; they create an opening to life simply by being vulnerable. Brene, talks about having the courage to be imperfect. This is particularly difficult to do in a world where there is already a significant presence of this pervasive narrative that says, “I’m not good enough.”
Adding one more thread to the journey of leadership and vulnerability I turn to the Dalai Lama. In, The Art of Happiness, The Dalai Lama talks about the vital importance of connecting with community. The Dalai Lama says that connecting with community is one of the most fundamental aspects of bringing meaning to life. Well, if we have this fear or shame of disconnection how can we ever really integrate with community? Well, I reckon there is something in embracing vulnerability that will allow us to really connect. But first we have to let go of the concept of, “always looking good.”
The Buddhist philosophy maintains that we are perfect the way we are and to accept this we need to be vulnerable to all of those around us who don’t quite agree. Tough concept to accept, being vulnerable in a world of perfection, but if this is the ticket to a deeper sense of feeling and connectedness to our mortal environment…sign me up.