Embracing Vulnerability

Flikr: Zé Otavo

Flikr: Zé Otavo

We’ve all heard about the power of positive affirmations and ‘faking it till you make it’. Wearing a game-face can be useful, especially when leading a team or running a family. Letting your stress or anger seep out can demotivate or worry those that you want to feel secure. However, trying to consistently show your strength: that you never fail, that you are always good enough, and that you never worry, is a. not true, b. exhausting, and c. damaging to those around you, who, like many of us, are very aware of their own shortcomings. If everyone constantly wears a strong game-face, then it simply escalates the epidemic of feeling isolated in our worries.

So, as an antidote, let us explore power of vulnerability. To start this topic, I really recommend giving Brené Brown’s Ted talk, The Power of Vulnerability, a watch. It’s a fascinating talk about the key to feeling worthy or as Brown calls it, being ‘whole-hearted’. She discovered that the only element trending within being ‘whole-hearted’, is in fact, embracing vulnerability. Brown describes vulnerability as ‘basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.’

Heston Blumenthal is also an advocator for encouraging vulnerability. In his Wired talk, he confronts the idea that perfectionism is ruining our ability to create. If we want to keep imagining and innovating, we have to free ourselves of this restriction, and accept our collective vulnerability. If we are terrified of not being perfect in everything we do, how can we ever expect to progress? I think John Wooden’s quote reflects this perfectly:

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

John Wooden

If you’re a leader of a team, or even just wanting to live a full life, surely the aim is to keep ‘doing’, and a natural part of this is ridding yourself of the fear of failure.

So leaders need to ensure they create the type of environment where vulnerability is embraced. Google did a series of experiments in attempt to find the perfect combination of skillsets to create the most productive team. They called it project Aristotle. Interestingly, their findings showed there is no perfect combination for productivity.

What google did discover, was that creating a safe working environment, where individuals feel comfortable to take leaps and experiment, is the secret to the most productive team. We can only excel and improve if we first accept that it won’t be perfect first time. In fact, making mistakes, is the best way to learn.

I also recommend watching Diana Laufenberg’s TED talk on allowing children to make mistakes. Even though she is applying mistake-making to accelerating children’s learning, it is definitely applicable to adults and teams at work. She talks about the incredible outcome when you ask children to ‘use their own voice and ask them to speak for themselves, what they are willing to share.’ As adults, we can become so concerned with presenting the most impressive version of ourselves that a lack of authenticity can result in a toxic atmosphere of competitiveness, anxiety, and insecurity.

So, we know that acknowledging our own vulnerability, and creating a space for other’s vulnerability is essential for creating meaningful connections, creativity, and a healthy environment. But how do you go about starting this? I have found Susanna Bair’s article, Are You Strong Enough To Be Vulnerable a useful starting point for this. In fact, I would like to leave you with my favourite part which is her description:

Vulnerability is owning your shortcomings without shame, acknowledging your strengths without superiority, and praising others without jealousy