Healthy Vulnerability in the Workplace

I definitely love this topic! We know achieving success in business requires people to communicate and collaborate. And when people work in a company culture of healthy vulnerability they do both more effectively. This needs to be openly talked about. Why?

For several reasons, and to begin with, being vulnerable as a business leader often feels counter-intuitive and not necessarily logical. CEOs and executive leaders resist it.
For some others, they feel too exposed, and their self-protective instincts rise up. It is simply uncomfortable—and too emotionally revealing. It feels too personal, or there is fear that it shows a weakness others might exploit.

Healthy Vulnerability cartoon at desk - Leading Edge Teams

WHAT is the beneficial effect on others if you reveal a vulnerability?

Your willingness, as a business leader, to be vulnerable, builds trust in others who rely upon you. It also builds your reputation as a strong and confident person, unafraid to be open with feelings of vulnerability. It shows your willingness to evolve, change, improve.

In my work with clients, I have found that most often, strong leaders admit that they don't show vulnerability.

They avoid it in their interactions with their team and peers. For sure, it can be a challenging emotional state, and in some situations even stirs feelings of being physically or socially defenseless. However, one benefit of recognizing a particular vulnerability, is that you get to know yourself better—which is always good!

That said, you still might be thinking, “WHY is it important, as a business leader, to accept that healthy vulnerability will benefit my work team and my relationship with my peers?”

First, it reveals to others that you know you are human, and that you, like everyone else, have a degree of uncertainty (about whatever it might be). It shows trust in your team when you are willing to be honest and open when you are unsure or challenged. Even saying to your team, “I don’t get it, or I don’t know,” acknowledges that you don’t always have all the answers and cannot do all things.

The following words, in action, admit to others that you know you’re not perfect. Transparency and healthy vulnerability, for example, might say, “I made a mistake,” or “I think I could improve in this area.” This naturally opens the door for team members or peers to communicate their vulnerability in healthy and honest ways, too. Mutual acceptance, care and understanding of each other is enhanced. It becomes a norm in your culture. It’s safe! It also makes space for others to step up and fill your gaps with their critical thinking, skills, innovation and problem-solving.

WHEN are you most likely to feel vulnerable? What can you do to feel okay about it?

Obviously, there’s no absolute answer to this question. Whether you (or me) like it or not, vulnerability can pop up anytime, and maybe when least expected. It happens! As a business leader your emotions are always in motion, so to speak! You are frequently stretched and challenged outside your comfort zone. Often you must take risks, and you ride a continual learning curve. For sure, living out your business mission and purpose in life is bound to create feelings of vulnerability. Being open to feeling vulnerable, and accepting it, and speaking about it out loud to your team, makes it more comfortable for you and everyone else. Healthy vulnerability relieves your inner stress.

By the same token, It helps others relax, because they feel vulnerable at times, too. They more closely relate to you as a fellow human.

They know they aren’t alone in their own feelings of vulnerability. They can contribute something you need and offer you their help. They can’t do that if you hide your feelings of uncertainty or unknowing. Recognize when your vulnerability needs to be shared; open up. As you do so, others will follow your lead. It helps them to feel safe to share their differing opinion, challenge, discomfort or insecurity.

And it’s important to remember, you are not the only one who wants to hide their vulnerabilities. Everyone else in the room does too! During a time of business challenge or change, when you openly share your vulnerability with your team, it’s like a “slow down” sign. It brings a sigh of relief for everyone. They can take a breath, too.

Again, this allows mutual reliance on your people, your peers and others. This in turn, promotes their willingness to contribute to your dilemma, giving them greater connection and purpose.

Openly ask, “What do you think about this issue?” or “What is your experience?” or “Do you have suggestions?” “Can I ask your perspective on this?”

Last thoughts on healthy vulnerability:
  • Be conscious of the fact that feeling vulnerable is a human experience. No one is immune. You can be more authentically you when you acknowledge it. Growth and self-acceptance is the result.
  • When you and others open up about vulnerabilities, everyone learns how to use their abilities to help set each other up for success. The epitome of teamwork!
  • Healthy vulnerability is not only becoming aware of it, but being expressive through it. Allow it to be a genuinely accepted part of your work culture and life experience.
  • Voicing your vulnerability gives you access to fresh resources, the support of other people. They help you become your forever learning and growing, best self.
  • Enhance the overall quality of life and your business success by openly sharing with, and caring for, the people you work with every day.
And I haven’t forgotten, a successful business is key, right?

Yes, I know the scoreboard of your business, the revenue does matter. It has to work on paper. Our experience at Leading Edge Teams has shown us, when the “people part” is supported, the success of the “business part” follows.

So today, ask yourself, “How is everybody on my team actually doing right now?” If your answer is, “Uh, yeah, well… I don't really know.” I suggest you find out, because to me they are the biggest measure of your future success!

This is Mindful Leadership!
– Barbara

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