“To grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” – Madeleine L’Engle
For a long time in my life, I had a secret:
I desperately feared being seen as vulnerable.
I tried to be the most competent, self-sufficient person, daughter, spouse and employee I could be. Not asking for help, not wanting to appear to not know the answer to any question that was asked.
It wasn’t because I wanted to be a know-it-all; frankly, I was terribly afraid to make a mistake, or be seen as incompetent.
I had confused being vulnerable with being seen as weak.
And I know I’m not alone in that belief: it’s a common misconception of many leaders to make this error.
But as the world shifts to recognizing and valuing the importance of relationships and interpersonal skills in a leader, we’re all learning that vulnerability is a precursor for creating meaningful and trusting connections at work and at home.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean spilling all your beans, violating emotional boundaries, or crying on your co-workers’ shoulders all day.
What it does mean is finding ways to be courageous: with your own authenticity, by demonstrating transparency, and in having a willingness to ask for help.
So, how can we embrace the gifts of vulnerability?
1) Have the courage to be imperfect. What in life is truly and consistently “perfect”? Perfect is often little more than an unattainable ideal – and pretty boring. You, just as you are, are more interesting and vital than any cut-out carbon copy.
2) Be willing to do what is uncomfortable and un-guaranteed but necessary. Being vulnerable is a little messy. Sometimes a lot messy. But the return on investment with taking uncomfortable but necessary risks is great. Taking these types of risks is actually what has changed history, over and over again.
3) Bump up your transparency and integrity. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Give other people a window into what you are thinking and your motivations. Honesty is not only the best policy but it’s usually easier and simpler in the long run.
4) Ask for help. No (wo)man is an island, and some of your best resources in solving complicated issues reside in the people directly around you. Practice the skill of asking for help regularly.
5) Practice compassion towards yourself and others. Being willing to be vulnerable requires some tenderness and compassion – first with yourself, and then with others.
6) Watch and learn from the masters. Some of the greatest leaders are impactful because of, rather than despite, their vulnerabilities: study your heroes. Children are also great teachers of vulnerability. And if you haven’t seen or read them yet, Brene Brown’s TED talks and books are great resources for anyone who wants to learn more about this important topic.
Try these out and you may just find that it’s easier to be an imperfect and growing human being than pretending to be invulnerable.
In the Comments section below, I’d love to hear from you: How do you embrace your own vulnerability? What’s different when you allow yourself to be vulnerable?
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated for content and relevancy.
Photo credit: DepositPhotos