Taking the Risk: Vulnerability in Leadership
Throughout most of my life, whether in positions of leadership or not, I have heard one word said about me over and over again. Unapproachable.
At first I did not really care, and blamed others for their lack of courage. When I realized it was inhibiting my effectiveness, and that as a leader it was my responsibility to be approachable, I began trying various strategies to change people’s perception of me. I opened avenues for feedback. I invested in team development. I gave affirmation in various forms. I tried my best to make sure people knew I cared about them. No matter what I did, my unapproachable reputation would not be shaken. I was at a loss and gave up on anything changing.
Funnily enough, my ‘eureka’ moment came after a failed conflict resolution attempt in my family. I had analysed the situation and applied the relevant theory perfectly. I thought it was a sure win, but it blew up in my face. When I debriefed with my sister afterward, she told me what I said was not received because I communicated too dispassionately. I realized that even though I was doing great at allowing people to be vulnerable with me, I had neglected to be vulnerable with them. Without the willingness to be vulnerable, I would continue to be perceived as unapproachable.
Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, defines it as the courage to show up and let ourselves be seen. In leadership, this looks like making room for mistakes, asking for help or forgiveness, taking risks, and making right but unpopular decisions. It also means being real, human people with our team, and not buying into the myth, as I did, that I need to be perfect and not let anything get to me. In the right context, it is healthy to share our weaknesses.
When the Apostle Paul was dealing with his weakness, he pleaded with God to take it away. In response, God said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul’s view of weakness was transformed when he recognized it as an opportunity for God’s strength to shine through. Vulnerability, though difficult for people like me, does not have to be crippling when we recognize our security in Christ and allow God to work in our weakness.
I still think I have a ways to go towards embracing vulnerability in leadership, and thus becoming more approachable. But I have been trying, and I am beginning to see the difference. Are you willing to take the risk?
Questions for Reflection
- What is people’s perception of you? If you’re not sure, ask some people around you who will be honest with you.
- What keeps you from being vulnerable?
- Why is vulnerability important in leadership?
- What will you start doing to increase your approachability?
Recommended Resource: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (Brené Brown)
Tami lives in Canada and works for the Christian charity Operation Mobilisation. She recently finished studies in Adult Education, and enjoys conversations about feminism and tea.
*Image taken by Tami Zacharias