Merriam-Webster defines vulnerable as capable of being physically or emotionally wounded or being open to attack or damage. As a woman, I personally cringe at the word; yet, I find lately that increasing attention is being put on vulnerability as a means to enable performance. To “put yourself out there”, exposing yourself to criticism takes courage and confidence. But are there benefits?
Practicing vulnerability in partnerships can be a means of building trust. Self disclosure – which is more than just being “transparent” – builds bridges. By sharing what you are thinking as well as how you feel allows others to see your genuine self. As a result, you can level power structures that can get in the way of beautifully productive relationships.
Vulnerability as a people leader can be seen in acts of empowerment and employee engagement. To trust others to act autonomously and make decisions without your direct oversight can be risky, but it can reap benefits in the form of employee ownership and loyalty. Also, you put yourself out there as a leader when you share your vision of the future for your team. Creating a vision for your team can be intimidating as it requires you to speculate and develop a long-term view for others, not everyone may agree with your vision or, worse, ridicule it. However, your willingness to paint a picture can serve to endear others to you and it can motivate them to be committed through good and bad times.
Finally, vulnerability as a strategic thought leader requires you to rock the boat and challenge long standing traditions or paradigms. Both may not come natural to you but they create needed change and transformation. Holding our tongues, deferring, or going along to get along limits healthy tension and creative perspectives that can bring amazing results.
As I mentioned before, vulnerability takes courage and confidence. There are personal characteristics that likely make vulnerability easier or harder to manifest. Risk aversion, approval dependence, and perfectionism are the big three barriers to putting yourself or your ideas out there. Fear of failure, a desire to appear compliant or to protect our image, and reticence to put half-baked thinking out there for the world to judge prevents us from “going big or going home.”
So, in all, I am not opposed to the concept. However, as a woman, I find it hard to coach other women using the word “vulnerable.” Does the word create resistance for you? I would love to hear your thoughts!