The Strength in Vulnerability
By Catherine Taylor Hickem
Several years ago, I attended a company event the CEO had pulled together for the purpose of innovation and creativity. She wanted to instill in her people the importance of being industry leaders in change and breakthrough thinking. It was my first experience with this organization and I was not familiar with the culture.
As I listened and observed the gathering, I quickly noticed how quiet the participants were. There were the notable participants who loved to talk and always had input but for the most part, the employees were quiet.
By the end of the event, the CEO was so frustrated that she took over the event and told them what she specifically wanted instead of embracing what they had developed in the 3-day gathering. She was annoyed by their failure to rise to her expectations and as a result, the participants left the meeting feeling defeated.
What is fascinating about this experience was the CEO did not believe in transparency, vulnerability or authenticity. She encouraged her leaders to keep their cards close to their chest and wanted them to refrain from showing their weaknesses to their subordinates.
It would have been powerful for this organization if the CEO had stood before her people and shared a personal story of defeat and the lessons on creativity she had learned as a result. Another significant moment would have been if she had asked several of her leadership team to share a time in their careers where they hit a wall but the outcome produced a new process, new door of opportunity, or new insight. Moments like these are prime occasions for leaders to be transparent with their people, lowering walls and raising trust. The participants needed inspiration about how to go from stuck and defeated to inspired and thinking creatively. The CEO taking the opportunity to relate to her people; sharing something about herself in a situation similar to theirs to bridge the gap and show that she wasn’t just directing these employees, but actually got them and had been where they are.
Brene Brown is one of the fastest growing thought leaders of our day. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher who currently has 3 books on the best-seller list. Her research shows that when people are willing to be the most authentic version of themselves, they will have freedom to tap into their unknown parts and explore possibilities they did not know existed.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
― Brené Brown
Leaders who can admit mistakes, be empathetic with their people, and live comfortably in their skin without needing to pass themselves off as perfect will be far more likely to create a culture of growth and change. Being innovative involves the risk of being wrong and making mistakes but having the courage to explore, wonder, and be curious. Employees will take risks if they will be safe with leaders who support their vulnerability, aka courage.
Years ago an engineer made a 6 million dollar error in a technology company. That CEO was asked if he was going to fire the employee for such a large mistake. The wise CEO responded that the company had 6 million dollars invested in this employee and they had a lot to learn in order to glean from this error.
Brené says it best when she said “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”
May we be the change agents to redefine the “V” word so we can have stronger, more empowered clients with greater impact on those with whom they have been entrusted? I think we are at least a part of the journey that can shine the light on the possibility of what can be.
To discuss the level of vulnerability in your organization, contact The Dash Group for a consultation.