Vulnerability

Posted on May 16, 2019


It's our favourite American's turn to post today, and this time she's talking about a really interesting topic. Not that she doesn't always talk about really interesting topics. Off you go, Claire Hamilton...

Valuing Vulnerability in a Brave New World

What does vulnerability mean to you? If you evaluate the word based on the definition, thoughts of being uncomfortable, open to attack or putting yourself in a powerless situation may spring to mind. Just put the word vulnerable into a Thesaurus and you’ll get: weakness, helpless, exposed, defenceless. 

But think about the last time you felt vulnerable? Were you walking into an important meeting, telling someone that you love them for the first time, facing a difficult conversation? What do these situations also have in common? They take courage. 

I experienced this eureka moment when I was introduced to Brené Brown’s TedTalk 
on ‘The power of vulnerability’. She challenged the audience to flip vulnerability upside down and to understand it for what it truly is, an essential tool for courage and bravery. As Brené stated, “we can’t know things like love and belonging and creativity and joy without vulnerability,” because we can’t be open to them. 

I brought this question of vulnerability to the place that we all spend a majority of our time, the workplace. I asked my team the following questions (anonymously) “What does vulnerability mean to you,” “Do you view vulnerability as a negative attribute,” and “Do you value bravery in others?”

I was absolutely impressed with the responses that I got from my team on what vulnerability meant to them: “To wear your heart on your sleeve,” “openness,” “to put yourself out there and to face your fears,” or “an awareness of your weaknesses and not being afraid to address them honestly in an effort to improve yourself.” And more than 60% disagreed that vulnerability was a negative attribute. A very progressive team… (or all huge Brené Brown fans).

As Brené points out, vulnerability isn’t just important in our personal lives, it is critical in the workplace and is strongly linked to leadership. In her talk, she outlines ways that vulnerability is an advantage and why we all need to remove our ‘workplace armour.’ Based on her insights, I highlighted a few ways that vulnerability is key to professional success. 

1. The truth will set you free: Trust and honesty are deeply rooted in vulnerability, and you need trust to create a positive and open work culture. Be open with your team, set clear guidelines, be available for feedback and trust in your team to make the right steps. They will know that you have their back. 

2. Think outside the box: Creativity in the workplace is driven by the ability to step outside the ordinary and to dare to see things differently. Even if it means you miss the mark, creativity stems from an environment that is open to the obscure because that is where the magic happens.

3. We need to talk: Openness and the ability to have difficult conversations all start by removing your ‘workplace armour’ and being open to views or arguments that are really hard to hear. This doesn’t come from a place where you put up a wall and are angry when people disagree or see things differently. It is understanding that your truth, may be different from my truth, but we can learn to appreciate and respect different views. 

4. Hold yourself accountable: Accepting constructive feedback isn’t a walk in the park. I won’t sugar-coat it. No one likes being told what they can improve on, but we need to be able to listen, evaluate and change accordingly. This is one of the only ways that we grow from our mistakes or shortcomings. 

5. We all make mistakes: This is a tough one. We all want to achieve perfection and be the absolute best, especially in the workplace, but we are also human. So, what happens when we make a mistake? Run away and cry? Nope! Accept your mistake, assess the situation and amend accordingly. And remember it will all be okay!  

Brené eloquently sums up what I believe to be the key message: “The greatest barrier to courageous leadership is not fear. In fact, some of the bravest leaders we interviewed told us that they experience fear every day. The biggest barrier to daring leadership is how we respond to our fear — it’s our armour that gets in the way.” I believe that it is the walls that we put up around us in aspects of our lives, the inability to be vulnerable and the fear of failing that holds us all back from making brave decisions and to creating a world based on courage, trust and openness. 

Brené doesn’t skirt around the fact that vulnerability is also terrifying. You’re raw and open. It is so much easier to walk through life with safe walls all around you but where’s the joy in that? 

It was helpful for me to take a moment and evaluate what we have done recently that is brave, and how this couldn’t be possible without vulnerability and celebrating that strength. Maybe the very act of me writing this blog and putting myself out there about vulnerability is courageous? I’ll take the small wins where I can get them. 

Want to learn more? If you have a few moments, check out Brene’s LinkedIn article here, on your next lunch break, check out her full TedTalk here and if you have a nice moment to yourself at home, make a cup of tea and watch her Netflix hour-long special – it might just transform your life.