To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.
— Criss Jami
When asked about how he would like to see himself grow professionally, Marco, the experienced leader with over 25 years on the job grinned and said, “With as many times as I’ve been around this block, I’m pretty sure I have seen everything. At this point, I am more focused on growing those below me.”
The facilitator of the focus group turned to another participant, Rebecca, a leader in her late 30s who, sitting up straight, answered the same question. “I am excited for the next step in my career. I’ve been leading my current team for nearly seven years and we have hit every goal put to us. I am confident I am ready to grow and handle more responsibility.”
Scratching his head, the facilitator turned to one more focus group participant, Ross, a 30-something man who had been playing with a button on his suit jacket since the question was first posed. “Me? Well… [clears his throat] I see the word ‘grow’ a little differently. There are many ways I could improve to become a better leader…a better employee, even. I know I can be a better listener… it’s what I have been focusing on. And not just when people come to me, I want to ask more questions of my team so that I can learn about their thoughts on issues. I know I can’t anticipate everything, and my team members see things I might miss.”
The first two participants quickly glanced at each other and then the floor. The facilitator asked Ross, “You mentioned you see the word ‘grow’ a little differently than Marco and Rebecca, and based on your body language, you seemed a little uncomfortable with the answer you gave us. Can you tell us how you see it?”
“Any kind of growth requires change and change can be uncomfortable. To me, growth implies getting better and having to work to improve might mean you are not the best at it in the first place. However, as a leader, I have to acknowledge what I need to improve. How can I expect my team to identify their areas of growth if I can’t, or won’t, identify my own. Sure, feeling vulnerable isn’t always comfortable, but it is necessary for change to occur—it’s how you get better.”
Not all leaders see vulnerability in the same light as Ross does. In fact, the vast majority would respond similarly to Rebecca and Marco. Most people associate vulnerability with weakness. However, the willingness to be vulnerable is, in fact, more associated with having courage. By hiding our vulnerability, we are showing the world we aren’t brave enough to own our full selves. We aren’t brave enough to feel exposed. We aren’t brave enough to admit where we can grow and improve.
As leaders we set the example for those who work for us. If we are willing to admit when we are unsure, when we’ve made a mistake, and we have identified areas in which we can improve, then the people we lead will feel freer to do the same. Imagine the implications of this—time and money saved in remedying mishaps, in identifying training needs and process holes, in responding to market trends and customer needs.
Vulnerability is not always comfortable, but magic happens in that space of discomfort. Change, creativity, innovation—all require some level of vulnerability. Whenever we try something new or push something we’ve created out into the world, we will experience that uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability, but the payoff can be great. We all know that feeling of satisfaction when something we’ve created is celebrated or something we’ve never done before succeeds. It might seem risky to embrace vulnerability, but not doing so risks sacrificing those “pump your fist in air” moments. We may stub our toe a time or two, but we find our strength when we muster up the courage to be okay with that.
Are you ready to tap into your vulnerability and discover how to improve your leadership skills? If so, we invite you to apply for the International Academy for Advancement Leadership, Advancement Resources’ new 6-month, comprehensive program for leaders across the advancement field.