Courageously Vulnerable© (adapted from Unmask: Let Go of Who You’re “Supposed” to Be & Unleash Your True Leader)

Yes, I did it. I brought the dreaded “V” word into the business conversation, and it is about time because our world and our businesses need a whole lot more vulnerability. In many ways, vulnerability is slowly and quietly becoming the new strategic weapon for business leaders. It is also at the heart of the gap that exists in our personal lives and relationships. The challenge has been and continues to be that vulnerability is treated like a dirty word both in business and personal interactions. It is something to be avoided at all costs—at least it has been—but the shift is happening because people and leaders are beginning to understand that the old way of being (closed off and covering up) is not working. This old way is not serving us as leaders, it is not serving us in our relationships, and it is not serving us in our families. Now is the time for you to throw off the masks and embrace your authentic and vulnerable self for all to see, experience and trust.

Conscious leaders are courageously vulnerable because they have learned that the path to whatever you want, whether it is in your business or in your personal life, will be relationships. People talk about wanting to have a great team, an engaged team, a committed, passionate team. That is going to come from relationships, and the missing link in relationships is trust. We have a trust crisis. We do not trust ourselves, we do not trust the people close to us and we definitely do not trust the people we work with. Yes, we may trust that they are not going to cheat us or blatantly lie to us about something important. But will they tell us the truth? Probably not, because we do not have authentic relationships that allow (or ever invite) direct and honest feedback.

We do not want to hear criticism because it is just that—critical. Rather than being benign information, most so-called constructive criticism is a pile of judgments—judgments about what you did, how you did it, how you failed or got it wrong, and often about who you are as a person. No wonder we do not like getting constructive criticism. And yet, the act of inviting direct feedback from others is a powerful act of vulnerability.

Sadly, our culture continues to hang on to the misguided notion that being authentic and vulnerable is a sign of weakness. In contrast, I invite you to shift your perspective on vulnerability dramatically. As I like to say, vulnerability is courage in action, and putting it in action is critical in order to change the cultural myth that vulnerability is a weakness. The best and perhaps only way to create this shift is by modeling vulnerability. You cannot merely talk about it or espouse it—you have to be able to take off your mask and let people know who you truly are. Only in this way can you show people that it is safe for them to be vulnerable.

I have often seen this dynamic in my own interactions with people. I am often told people do not want to take their conversations and relationships to this deeper level—that people “do not want to go there.” To this I say: “Wrong.” My personal experience is that men and women are starving for a place—a safe place—where they can be themselves, take off their masks and lower their shields. You, as a conscious and courageous leader, can create this safe, inviting and vulnerable space where others have permission to open up and reveal their authentic selves. As a friend of mine and fellow speaker, Glenna Salsbury, said, “When you tell your truth, you free others to tell and live their truth.” This type of thinking is the essence and outcome of being courageously vulnerable, both in your business and your personal life.

Researcher, author and well-known TEDx speaker Brené Brown has studied and written extensively on the topic of vulnerability, and she famously stated that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Not strength. Not ability to persevere. Not ability to act as if nothing gets to us. Vulnerability is not just courageous—it is the measurement of courage. It is the evidence of our courage.

The easiest way to know when we are being vulnerable or moving towards vulnerability is to listen to the fear inside us. We fear vulnerability because there is an old cultural story that says being vulnerable is the equivalent of being weak. We also fear vulnerability because it exposes us to judgments from others and to the ultimate fear for many of us—rejection. Moreover, this is potentially an especially painful rejection because it would be based upon who we really are. If we are wearing our masks, then the judgments we receive are of who we are pretending to be. At least that is safer than being flayed open and judged as your most vulnerable self. Yes, vulnerability may be safe—but at the cost of your authentic self, at the cost of trust, at the cost of relationships, and ultimately at the cost of failing in leadership, both personally and professionally.

Conscious leaders are willing to show up vulnerable, let people know who they really are, allow the connections to happen, and let their relationships flow from all the trust that is created when we let people know who we really are. Talk about engagement—you want a committed team? Show up as who you are. Let them understand that you have the same fears they do. Let them understand that you go through the same uncertainty that they do. Effective leaders don’t lack fear, but they are honest about their fears and lead, decide or act despite them. Vulnerability may be the linchpin to all of it, and it is definitely one of the key attributes of a conscious leader.

Now is the time for conscious leaders to step up—for YOU to step into your own conscious leader—in order to change things for the better at work, at home, with your family, in your communities—and most definitely from there to the rest of the world.

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