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What Does Vulnerability Have to Do with Leadership?

I was sitting on the edge of my chair. I had butterflies in my stomach. I rarely get nervous when I facilitate a meeting, but yesterday I had a few tiny jitters. Why? Well, I was teaching something new. I was teaching something quite risky to an executive team in a corporate setting. The topic was vulnerability.

As I was driving downtown to the meeting location, I decided that I really needed to walk the talk in this session. If I was talking about vulnerability and expecting the participants to be vulnerable, then I knew that I needed to be vulnerable too. After all, how could I expect my clients to let down their guard if I did not do the same?

After reading several books by Professor Brene Brown, including The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, I had some strategies in my pocket. Let me first explain what Brene Brown says about vulnerability and then I’ll share my favorite strategies with you.

After six years of research, Brene Brown concluded that human connection is what gives us meaning and purpose in life. Yet, she says, that many of us withdraw in our relationships for fear of being hurt, shamed or rejected.

So, Brene Brown suggests that to live and love with greater connection and meaning, we have to let down our guard, stop trying to control everything and be more vulnerable in our relationships. This means embracing our imperfections, being less judgemental of ourselves and other people and speaking our truth with more certainty. Sounds good in theory, right?

But in reality, how do we embrace vulnerability when all our lives we have built up walls that will prevent us from getting hurt?

Here are my favourite strategies to practice vulnerability:

  • Act courageously. It takes a lot of courage to admit that we are not perfect. It also takes courage to let go of the need to control everything or to let down our walls to love with an open heart. But if we do so, it changes the way we live, love, work and parent.
  • Identify what makes you uncomfortable. Vulnerability, like happiness, is not universal. What feels courageous to you, might be common place for someone else and vice versa. So, while I can easily speak in front of 200 people, another person might feel afraid to speak in front of 5 people.
  • Let go of the need to be perfect. The reality is that no one is perfect. We are all human and that means we all make mistakes. The more you hold yourself to the impossible ideal of perfection, the more easily you will give up or feel an unnecessary amount of stress.
  • Extend compassion to yourself and others. Be kind to yourself first. When we are kind to ourselves, we create a reservoir of compassion that we can extend to others. Reach out to other people in small ways. Tell someone that you like their new shirt or that you have noticed how hard they are working.
  • What does this mean for you as a leader? It means that to be a more impactful, authentic leader, you need to pluck up the courage to be more vulnerable. For example, it means that you cannot ignore giving difficult feedback to your colleague. You must have that crucial conversation with your peer that keeps missing deadlines. You need to slow down and listen to people with a more compassionate lens. What do you need to do that requires courage?

Let me reassure you that the journey to being more vulnerable starts with baby steps. It is not about stripping off your armour in big leaps and bounds. It is about taking one small step at a time.

Here are some ideas of baby steps that you can take:

  • Give compliments or positive feedback to others
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Say how you really feel when you are uncomfortable about a situation
  • Put your smart phone away and really listen to others
  • Manage your stress so that you are more present in your relationships

What baby steps can you take?

Let me share with you the baby steps that I took with my clients yesterday. Firstly, I decided to tell them that I felt nervous sharing this content with them. They see me as so confident and I thought it was important for them to know that we all get nervous, especially when trying something new or potentially risky. I also shared a few personal stories with them highlighting some of my fears and imperfections. While this was hard for me to do, I acted with courage, and in turn, inspired a room of 12 leaders to do the same.

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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