The Value of Vulnerability

So often when the topic is leadership, qualities like gravitas, confidence and strength are extolled as desirable and even essential. But just as important are some qualities at the other end of the spectrum. Today I’m specifically referring to vulnerability.

We’re all aware of the importance – and sometimes difficulty – of being vulnerable in our personal relationships. Without it, love and intimacy are impossible. But a certain degree of vulnerability is equally as important for development of our professional relationships as well.

I worked with a client who was told by her supervisor that she needed to let people get to know her better; that as head of the department (for quite a while already), it would help overall team chemistry and trust. For someone who was working to overcome perfectionism and fear of making any sort of public mistake, this was daunting.

“How can I open up to them? I don’t know if I can trust them to see that side of me,” she said.

I replied, “My guess is that they probably feel the same about you. But here’s the thing: When you have two people who need to feel like they receive trust (or respect) before they’re willing to give it, there’s a stalemate. Eventually, someone has to ‘blink’ first, take the chance and give the other person the opportunity to demonstrate that they are trustworthy. That starts the cycle.”

But one way or another, the beauty is that you don’t have to trust them with your deepest darkest secrets or the key to the vault. Sometimes it’s just being able to laugh at yourself, or letting them know that you’re under the weather and could use their help that day.

Last week I got a frantic email from a client asking to have a strategy call the next morning before a high-stakes meeting that had just been organized. Understanding her situation and wanting to accommodate, I told her the truth: “Tomorrow morning the only slot that’s open is 9am, but in full transparency, I’m going to be in ‘mommy mode’ at that time, since I have to take my son” (who is 1 year old) “for a checkup at 10, so the nanny won’t arrive until 11. I can’t guarantee what mood he’ll be in or how long we can speak without interruption, but if you want to give it a try, I’m game.”

“I’ll take it,” she said.

So at 9am the call comes in – we coach via FaceTime, video included – and I answer, in a t-shirt with my hair pulled back, hoping she wouldn’t be daunted by my less-than-executive appearance. “I think we’re safe – he’s in his highchair and I’m feeding him breakfast, so he’s busy and happy for a while,” I told her.

My trust in letting my client see me this way was immediately rewarded.

“Oh, is he there? Can you turn the camera? I’d love to see him.”

I turned the camera so my client was face-to-face with the big blue eyes of my son, who stared back at her, mesmerized by the face on the screen. And then this high-powered CFO of a multi-billion-dollar company did the best thing possible: she launched straight into full-scale “peek-a-boo” mode.

My son burst into giggles immediately, and after a moment or two I turned the phone back to me. She had a huge smile on her face, and said, “That was the perfect antidote to the morning I’ve already had, thank you!”

From there we shifted gears and got down to business. We had each let down our guard with and I am confident that we both feel that the mutually shared vulnerability only served to strengthen our bond, both personally and professionally.

So once in a while, take a little chance: (metaphorically) play a bit of “peek-a-boo,” and let them see you.

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Do you have other questions or feedback about vulnerability and leadership? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

 

 

 

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