What social research says about the power of vulnerability at work & at home.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Watman. That’s Batman—with a speech impediment.
Batman was everything anyone wanted to be. Rich. Mysterious. Philanthropic. Risk-taking. Heroic. Unwavering. Courageous. He had it all, and he had it all together.
Sooner or later, I grew up and realized that I wasn’t as mysterious or good looking or courageous as Bruce Wayne. I don’t remember Bruce ever experiencing social anxiety, or two failed businesses, or the serious case of negative self-talk that I deal with.
As kids, superheroes inspired us. They let us live and make our future dreams vicariously through them. But we grow up. We realize that life isn’t a comic book and no one is ever as heroic or flawless as Bruce Wayne. At some point, the superhuman pictures of perfection that used to inspire us do little more than entertain.
The same goes for most people today. Leaders. Friends. Bosses. Parents. Pastors. The perception of perfection is captivating, no doubt. But the truth is that no one (regardless of how they learn to present themselves to the world) has it all together. (Not only that, but most of us inherently know better than to trust someone we feel no connection to.)
In fact, social research shows that projecting as if we have it all together isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. On the contrary, when we’re willing to take off the masks of who we “should” be to admit who we currently are, a human connection is created that is essential to inspiring, and helping, and leading.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of inspiration. Brene Brown, a 20-year sociologist and the author of “Daring Greatly,” says it this way:
Our ability to be vulnerable forms the basis for our connection with others, a connection that is critical if we are to inspire others. (Read more)
Vulnerability inspires change. Peter Fuda and Richard Badham spent five years studying the effects of vulnerability in the corporate workplace. Their conclusion?
When a leader (read: parent, pastor…etc) admits their own weakness, it invites a mutual accountability that creates momentum for change. This act of humility is seen as courageous and inspires others to follow suit. As more members of the team join the process, the snowball becomes more tightly compacted and almost impossible to stop. (Read More)
Vulnerability makes success more accessible. Brad Smith’s (CEO of Intuit) father was the mayor of their hometown. After uncomfortably listening to his dad give a speech with too many grammatical errors to count, he confronted the mayor. His father listened to his concerns, smiled, and said,
Son, people prefer their leaders with flaws, because it makes leadership more attainable for the rest of us.” He went on to explain: “This is who I am, and each of them in the audience have their own opportunities to improve. But once they recognize that I can be mayor without being perfect, then maybe one of them will be inspired to be mayor after me, because they know they aren’t perfect either. (Read More)
Vulnerability inspires innovation. Peter Sheahan is the CEO of ChangeLabs, a global consultancy delivering large-scale behavioral change projects. After his work with clients such as IBM and Apple, he remarks on the issue saying,
This notion that the leader needs to be “in charge” and to “know all the answers” is both dated and destructive. Its impact on others is the sense that they know less, and that they are less than (the epidemy of anti-inspiration). A recipe for risk aversion if ever I have heard it. Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation. (Read More)
More and more we see this shift in leadership. Creating pictures of perfection to aspire towards is quickly being replaced by vulnerable admissions of not having it all figured out and invitations to simply explore the road ahead together.
Yes, vulnerability is often perceived as weakness. And yes, there is an unspoken professional guideline against emotional accessibility. And yes, we live in a world that’s more concerned about who we should be than who we currently are.
But when it comes to the betterment of real peoples lives, social research shows that the world doesn’t need anymore superheroes…or emotionally inaccessible CEO’s…or pastors unwilling to admit their still broken…or parents uncomfortable with their own imperfection. The world needs you to talk about where you’re headed…to open the good, and the bad, and the ugly of your process…and to invite us to try, to fail, and to succeed along side you.
(Question. What are the things that most scare you about living vulnerably? For me? Rejection – to be known but not chosen.)