Let’s talk about vulnerability. I want to ask you the question are you reluctant to show your vulnerability at work? Because so many people are. We have these inbuilt mechanisms to defend ourselves.
For many years, vulnerability equaled weakness for me. That’s how I was brought up. I was told ‘be strong’ and ‘don’t cry’ and we certainly didn’t ever express our feelings in my household. It wasn’t encouraged as a child. So in my adult work, I used to find that the easier thing to do was to put a mask on. That mask became the version of me that I thought was appropriate in my work settings, whatever it was that I was doing. I just want to share a bit of a story with you. Many years ago, it was around 1999, I can remember driving on my own to Southend on Sea. It was about a two hour drive from where I lived to deliver a workshop. And on my way there I came a bit of a cropper and got caught up in some road rage on a roundabout. The person in the other car got out of their car, walked up to my window, right by my head and with rings on every single finger, decided to punch my window. You can probably imagine I was quite terrified and it was quite an experience. I then had to drive on and deliver this workshop, and I’ve been conditioned to think that vulnerability was a weakness. So I put my professional mask on, and I delivered that workshop without mentioning a single thing to the people in the room about what just happened to me. And even though I kept that information to myself, I held in the ongoing feeling of being really shaken up all day long. I may have worn that mask for those people. I had never met them before so because they’d never met me, maybe they didn’t know anything different from what they saw, and maybe they didn’t pick up that something that was going on with me that day. But if that had been my team I can see now that I would have created a barrier to them if I’d have held in all of that information and how I was feeling about it. Then one day, many years later, something happened to me where I had no choice but to show my vulnerability. I was experiencing raw pain, and I simply couldn’t put on the metaphorical mask that I used to wear. And you know what was really interesting? To my surprise, nobody treated me like I was weak. Nobody saw me as weak. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I experienced something I’d never experienced before, but my vulnerability actually brought people in. It became a magnet to attract help, to attract support and to attract love.
Now I’ve learned that in leadership, there are real advantages to showing our vulnerability, to being real, to being authentic about what’s really going on for us.
Firstly, it builds trust because we’re being open and we’re being honest. And as Brené Brown, if any of you have ever come across her work, would say, ‘it’s the root of all social connection when we’re vulnerable’. Her quote says
In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.
And I love that! No mask, no falseness, no hiding things. We have to be seen as who we are.
In leadership, when we want connection with our colleagues and our team members, we have to allow ourselves to be seen to build that trust.
Secondly, it boosts a sense of safety in relationships. And here I’m talking about psychological safety of course. When people and teams see us owning our challenges, owning our failures, owning our experiences, they feel empowered to do the same. So in actual fact, what we’re allowing them to do is create accountability as well as a sense of safety. ‘It is OK to own my mistakes. I don’t have to show up in this team being perfect in order to fit it’. People can be real because we’re showing that we’re being real as well, showing our vulnerability.
Thirdly, vulnerability enables engagement and performance in teams. High performing teams, research has shown time and time again tend to have a culture of sharing, sharing success, sharing our wins, sharing our failures, sharing our challenges, sharing our ideas, sharing solutions. But we’re sharing. We’re in it together. We’re engaged in what’s going on. So that things can get dealt with quickly and the team can feel like it’s moving forwards and performing.
So call out your shortcomings. Let people know. I know this could be quite a challenge for people and that’s why I’m sharing this today. But when you do, you show up as your accountability and this does need a little bit of boundary setting around it. Yeah, oversharing your every concern can make people feel uncomfortable and it can be quite unsettling. So my guide to you here is share your vulnerabilities, but don’t offload your vulnerabilities on your team. To establish your boundaries ask yourself is what I’m about to share helpful?. We aren’t talking about sucking your colleagues into your whole life’s dramas here. You know, there’s always certain things that are better shared elsewhere with a really good friend or with your coach.
I encourage you to have a look at:
- Where are you wearing a mask at work?
- Where are you kind of creating a bit of a barrier between you and others in relationships, with your team?
- Where have you got that false version of yourself that you’re putting forward?
- And what difference would it make if you actually let them see you, see your vulnerabilities?
I’m going to leave you with a bit of a challenge from today’s video, and that is to think about that mask, think about where you’re wearing it and think about where could you take that mask off? I challenge you to find ways to share a little bit more of you. Share more of your challenges. Share more of your wins. Share more of your experiences. Share more of your vision and your goals. Every day, show up and express that vision. What’s your dream whether it’s for your business or for your team or for other people around you? When you do this, you will unlock great trust, you will enable stronger sense of psychological safety, and you will ultimately create openness in your relationships because other people will make you do the same and in your team that will bring you greater engagement and higher performance.
So I really hope you found today helpful. And please do share with me in the comments or send me a message. I’m always happy to hear from you, whether it’s that you need some help with this or whether you’ve tried it and it’s worked. Share your stories with me. I’d love to know, but for today, I just leave you with this. You are amazing. So go be your amazing, true self with all the people around you today.