Why Would You Want to Be More Vulnerable?
It was a tense, even stifling, environment. People were afraid to fail, so they avoided risks. They were reluctant to speak up in meetings or challenge ideas. The reason? The leader.
He was never out of control, always in charge, always one step ahead of everyone else. Never vulnerable. Always composed.
For all his self-assurance, the leader was open to coaching. He had sought me out to improve his presentation skills. His presentations were dense, dry and sterile—which made them both intimidating and uninspiring.
The coaching focused on bringing out his full personality, not just the composed leader persona. So I started by asking about what he most values, and he said it was his family. Then I asked which family relationships were top of mind for him right then, and why. He talked about his son, who was struggling with anxiety and wasn’t doing well in school.
I probed further.
“How do you feel about your son right now?”
With tears in his eyes he quietly responded, “He’s just like me. I’ve always been an anxious person. I make him even more anxious.”
His emotion was moving. I shifted from experiencing his intimidating nature to experiencing his human nature. And it was powerful.
So I challenged him to talk about his son in an upcoming work presentation and to reveal this part of himself to colleagues.
He did just that…in a quarterly business presentation to the entire company.
The feedback he received was overwhelming. People thanked him for his vulnerability and said it was the most inspiring presentation he’d given.
He’d adjusted his approach, and the environment around him changed completely. And so began his journey to be more vulnerable.
Of course, vulnerability seems like something that you wouldn’t want to be good at. The definition of vulnerability is to be “open to attack or damage; open to revealing physical or emotional wounds.” It comes from vulnus, the Latin word for wound.
Why would you want to reveal your wounds?
Because the leaders, parents and friends with the greatest impact usually do.
Here are five more reasons why:
- We all have wounds. Not one of us doesn’t. As my friend John Crosby said recently, we prefer to manage our images so we look like shiny pots. But the truth is, we all have vulnerabilities, Achilles heels. We can only hold our images together for so long before revealing to ourselves and others that our shiny pots have cracks. And when we’re open with others about our cracks, they can be open with us as well.
- Being honest with ourselves about our wounds makes us stronger. Naming and working through wounds heals them and provides the experience to work through future challenges. Processing the hard stuff requires you to step up. And stepping up always brings you to a higher place.
- Being honest with others about our wounds builds relationships. Like the executive I coached, whether in work or personal relationships, people are drawn to others who reveal their true selves and their humanity, not simply the shiny image they’re most comfortable projecting. In turn, people who reveal hard things are trusted with hard things. Some of my closest friendships and working relationships were forged through hard times—uncertainty, failure, death.
- When their hurt isn’t addressed, hurt people tend to hurt other people. Just ask the people around me—I’m the hardest to be around when I’m stuffing down difficult emotions.
- Vulnerability is rare. Doing it shows courage. It’s much easier to avoid difficult feelings. People notice when others enter into it, because most don’t.
How do you do vulnerability in a way that is productive and appropriate?
In my next post, I’ll outline some specific ideas you can try out to teach yourself to be more vulnerable.