3 Reasons Why Wearing My Vulnerability On My Sleeve Made Me a Better Leader

As a leader, vulnerability is the path to courage, joy, and creativity.

Few people would think an executive officer of a thriving Inc 5000 business would have shame issues. However, growing up as a New York latchkey kid with a broken family and being homeless for parts of my early life introduced me to shame at a young age. I had a father in and out of prison, both parents struggling with addiction, and before finishing elementary school I had been to 14 different schools in nearly as many cities.

As a kid I didn’t know how to admit, address, or handle the big impact shame was making on my life and I carried that suppression with me into adulthood. It wasn’t until recently when I met motivational speaker and shame researcher Brené Brown that I was able to understand how my experience dealing with shame and learning to be vulnerable could make me a better leader.

If you haven’t heard of Brown, she is the author of six bestselling books on vulnerability and shame, has three degrees in sociology, and one of the most popular TED talks with almost 50 million views combined between TED.com and YouTube. If you need a good introduction to how vulnerability can help your own leadership, you should watch her Netflix special The Call to Courage.

Vulnerability is courage.

Vulnerability is all about uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. These are three things leaders face all the time in business. In her Netflix special, Brown asks us to think about instances in life where you’ve shown courage and it hasn’t involved uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure?

I found that being open, taking chances, and moving forward when you are unsure of the outcome is being vulnerable as a leader. It’s also courage. The best leaders can use their vulnerability to give them courage by admitting to others when they are in doubt so they can get the support they need to succeed.

Vulnerability brings you joy.

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you have to be serious all the time. Brown says people fear vulnerability because it is at the center of hard emotions like shame, fear, and uncertainty. Vulnerability leaves you exposed. So to save yourself pain, you armor up.

The problem is when you armor up, you prevent things from coming into your life (or business) like love, belonging and joy. However, joy is imperative for your leadership. No one believes following someone who is miserable and afraid will bring them joy. The more I opened up at work, the more I enjoyed my work and the more the business thrived.

Vulnerability stimulates creativity.

Creativity happens when we are able to be vulnerable and get out of our comfort zone. Unfortunately, many companies provide zero protection for vulnerability. Most organizations require people to armor up because everyone is on the attack.

Brown argues when we are permitted to be vulnerable at work, this allows us the safety to trust our teammates, try out new ideas, be creative, and innovate. It allows us to break down silos and include people, have the hard conversations we need to have, and give and receive feedback so we can improve.

At my company, we strive to create a culture that supports new ideas. We have town hall meetings where anyone can speak their mind so we can address company-wide issues. As leaders, we try to be more transparent about company decisions, taking input from all employees. This has led to more communication, innovative solutions, and a thriving business.

To have the success in life you want, to be the leader people want to follow, you need to be vulnerable. Vulnerability shows your courage, allows joy to enter the workplace, and permits an environment where creativity can thrive– all the things necessary to be successful in work and in life.

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