The Power of Vulnerability
It was the standard CEO kick-off speech launching our WeLead training program. My client (the CEO) came in and spoke to his team about the transitions they were facing as an organization, what some of their goals were and how LaL’s leadership training aligned with that. He mentioned to the group that he and his senior team had been through the training themselves, and described how it had dramatically changed the way they worked together; the value gained beyond the workplace and the significant difference it had made in his personal life. He then encouraged his team to take full advantage of the opportunity available.
He was just about to wrap up when someone asked if he would be willing to also give an example that illustrated how he had benefited from the program at a personal level.
The CEO looked down for a moment, and in a very simple, straightforward way shared that his way of interacting with his ex-wife had been creating tension for their son. The room suddenly grew very still.
He had been able to get clear on the pain he still had from his divorce and the anger he was holding towards his ex. He recognized how this led to behaviors that weren’t consistent with the kind of father he wanted to be for his son. He couldn’t change what had happened in the past, but he had moved forward to create a better relationship with his ex-wife in ways that honored both his own values and his hopes for his son.
He didn’t try to hide the tears in his eyes, and his authentic emotion was clear. Every person in the room sat in rapt attention.
Long after the CEO had left the room, the power of his words were still present. Many times during the following days people referred to this moment.
“I saw him as a real human being.”
“That was inspiring.”
“ I feel really great about being a part of his team.”
“ That was a huge learning for me to see that kind of honesty.”
Many shared that they had always been afraid of showing their vulnerability because of how others might perceive them. They were surprised to see that the judgment or loss of credibility that they imagined not only didn’t transpire, but that the opposite reaction took place. People felt more warmly towards the CEO, more motivated to follow his encouragement and more connected to him as a leader.
Brené Brown – whose TEDx talk on vulnerability went viral – summed it up when she stated that we all struggle to be vulnerable because we think of vulnerability as a weakness even though when we witness people being vulnerable, we think of them as courageous.
This experience reminded me of how vulnerability is as inevitable to being human as the fierce efforts we make to hide it. Too often we become invested in the appearance of “having it all together” despite the uncomfortable truth that no one actually does. So we numb out and live in fear of the judgment or loss of credibility we would face if we showed one another the messiness of our imperfect selves.
Although we feel momentarily safer, the real costs are found in how we feel unsafe, become a threat to each other, and that when we shut down the “bad” feelings, we lose out on the good ones too… like joy, gratitude and connection. And when it comes to people, at work or anywhere else, connection is everything.
By the end of that training, no one really remembered much about what the CEO said in that 20-minute speech, but the memory of that moment of deep authenticity remained vivid. With its cascading effect, his simple statement had more impact on creating a culture of openness, candor and authenticity than anything else he said about it before, while at the same time reinforcing his position as a respected leader. Who would call that weak?
How has being vulnerable been an asset for you in the workplace? We would love to hear your comments.