Embracing your Vulnerability Advantage
Guest article with Wendy Lee of Leadhership Revolution
Wow! It’s hard to believe that I started my career in Human Resources nearly 20 years ago. If you asked me back then to name some qualities that define strong leadership, you can bet your bippy, vulnerability, wouldn’t have cracked my top 10.
To tell the truth, I don’t think I even had a good sense of what leadership was. So identifying vulnerability, as a leadership strength, was definitely not on my radar.
Remember too, this was pre Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability TED talk. Her research on courage, shame, empathy, and vulnerability was just getting started. The world had not yet embraced uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure as a good thing. Me neither.
I had my own stories and experiences around vulnerability, too. Merriam Webster’s definition: A weakness or some area where you are exposed to risk sums it up pretty well.
You see for me, I equated vulnerability to victimization. My childhood was riddled with very traumatic events. Being vulnerable was not safe. My survival response was to split off into two versions of myself: Uber Masculine and Unhealthy Feminine.
One of my favorite responsibilities in my HR role was on-boarding new employees. I even had an entire PowerPoint that lined out the path of success. Of course I did!
Work hard. Volunteer for new opportunities. Add value to the company. Go above and beyond. Lead from your position. Support others. Blah, blah, blah. Sounds like great advice, right?
After all, that was the formula I followed that allowed me to move up the corporate ladder from a Recruiter to the SVP of Human Resources. Obviously I knew a thing or two about success.
Well, kinda. I was operating in and matching the masculine energy of the business world. My “success” was being played out in titles, raises, and added responsibilities. This was my way of not being vulnerable.
Achieving results, hitting the bottom line, processes and procedures…that was my jam, and it was a great breeding ground for my Uber Masculine survival traits. I could protect my vulnerability in staying busy and overachieving.
Although my Uber Masculine was in full swing, I was also operating in my Unhealthy Feminine.
I didn’t always speak up, ask for what I needed or had the best boundary game. So sometimes I allowed myself to be taken advantage of, and it showed up big time in my personal relationships.
I found myself in dysfunctional relationships with alcoholics, druggies, womanizers, liars, narcissistic abusers, and freeloaders. In a nutshell, if you were emotionally unavailable, I probably dated you. It was not fun. In fact there were times I felt that my well-being, and my life was in danger.
It was weird that I could be so successful at work, and so not in my personal relationships. In desperation, I begin to seek healing. I found it in transformational retreats and coaches. It was in this safe space that I leaned into my own vulnerability, with love and acceptance and started a healing journey.
So if vulnerability is such an awesome tool, than why aren’t we haven’t we embraced vulnerability completely?
First, a lot of women leaders still operate in the mode of never let them see you sweat, don’t share your feelings, and oh by the way, don’t ever cry, especially in front of men. Don’t display behaviors that give an appearance of incompetence or weakness.
Old school thinking usually frowns upon getting too chummy with your employees or coworkers. Maintaining a professional image requires that your peeps respect you. You know the whole competence, confidence and authority image. That heart stuff doesn’t belong in your professional relationships.
But it absolutely does. The trick is to maintain boundaries and practice discernment. Tap into your intuition for this guidance. It knows the way.
And secondly, expressing vulnerability requires mindfulness. There is definitely an awesome awareness of vulnerability thanks to pioneers like Brene Brown. But getting from words in a book to taking action, requires practice and soul work.
Here are some tips:
Heal Your Story, Share your Story
One of the easiest ways to develop your vulnerability skills is to tell your story. When you get real, people respond. You’ll be seen as an authentic human being. This builds trust and creates connection that deepens your relationships
But here’s the kicker. It’s important that you are healed around the story before you share your story. You can’t bypass this part. Operating from unhealed emotional trauma can lead to operating in a mode of arrested development.
If you find yourself trying to fix, being responsible for, controlling or matching the energy instead of being the authority in the room, it may indicate you have some soul work to do.
Oops I Did It Again – Mistakes Happen
Brittany, you, me – we all make mistakes. When we are still in healing mode, sometimes we won’t fess up to those little blunders. Our ego does not want to appear incapable or weak.
If you find yourself feeling embarrassed, or covering up any mistakes, you may still have some work to do.
Mistakes happen. Owning them and sharing what you learned is a true sign that you are embracing your vulnerability.
Hush Your Mouth – Listening is Key
You don’t always have to be in charge of the conversation. I know as leaders, we get used to running the show. We want to find solutions and fix problems. But at that level of energy, there’s no room for the other person to lean in. Your taking up all tenaire and that I suffocating.
Practice being aware of when you step in, when you don’t need to.
Moving from the experience of vulnerability as a disadvantage and weakness to embracing vulnerability as an advantage and a strength is simple, but not easy. But once you get the hang of it, leveraging this knowledge as a leader in the corporate arena or running your own biz, gives you an edge to redefine success.
Brene Brown describes vulnerability as the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.
What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.
It wasn’t until I discovered this missing piece for myself, that I could really see the possibilities. I was keeping my most valuable resources hidden, and I didn’t even know it.
I never imagined that embracing my vulnerability, would one day, allow me to grow and heal as a leader and as a person, and give permission to others around me to do the same. And that this metamorphosis would reveal itself at the intersection of work and self.
One day, an employee peeked her head into my office and asked if I had a minute. I was responsible for employee relations, so having visitors was common; but this day would be different.
As she passed through the threshold, she shut the door behind her. This usually meant one of two things; the person was quitting or the situation was serious.
At first she was chatting it up. She was an overly friendly person and went out of her way to help others, even at her own expense. And some point, she starting crying. Really crying. Weeping.
I had done my soul work. I was prepared to share my story at the request of my intuition. I asked for permission to share and then I told her about my childhood experience with sexual abuse. I did not give a lot of details. I didn’t need to.
She was crying so hard now she was shaking, I knew that her soul had carried this burden that needed healing. She bowed her head, in a position of shame, and shared with me her darkest kept secret of abuse. Something she had never told another living person.
At that moment, my vulnerability gave her permission to be vulnerable and it changed both of our lives forever.
Let’s change the narrative. Imagine what is possible when we redefine vulnerability as a superpower, whose magical abilities open doors and create safe containers for healing and connection. Not only for ourselves as leaders in the world, but to those we serve?
Start embracing your Vulnerability Advantage today and discover the power.
Wendy Lee is a Transformational Life Coach and Influential Speaker.
She founded LeadHERship Revolution to help women leaders connect to their feminine power and create a badass life that values collaboration over competition, creativity over results, and sees vulnerability as a strength.
Redefine what success looks like with Wendy’s free “Embracing Your Vulnerability Advantage” guide – get yours here!