Why superheroes don’t inspire us anymore.

What social research says about the power of vulnerability at work & at home.

superhero

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.)

  • Michael

    Tyler,

    Your writing is one of the few things that comes through my inbox that I get excited to read. I learn so much from you:) Thanks!

    Michael Walsh
    Addiction Recovery Coach | Sober Companion
    Life. Untangled.

  • Michelle

    You are awesome and refreshing. I am glad you realize this and share your insights in a way that keeps me wanting more. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @disqus_IZgIkmCJma:disqus : Really appreciate the kind words.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    Thanks Michelle. Stay in touch.

  • Clarissa Bezerra

    Tyler, this is absolutely great. As a leader in my professional setting, I have grown more confident as I’ve learned that control is an illusion, and so much of that perfectionism and just plain need to control leads to this ‘hard shell’ around our personas. Vulnerability is key. It is our very nature.

    Thank you again for this post. I’ll be mulling over it for a good while.

    Best,
    C.

  • http://www.calebsg.com/ Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

    Tyler, this is so true. I answer your question almost the same way. Rejection, but to be despised and abandoned.

  • http://www.chancescoggins.com/ chance

    Dang. You’re so good.

  • runamok

    Thanks for the reminder, Tyler. As often as I implement this in my personal and business life, at times I find it can make people a little uncomfortable. Where certain family members are concerned, I can practically see them calculating how they can manipulate my confessions against me in the future, sad but true. But, I think challenging a persons level of comfort makes them wake up a little. Here’s hoping.

  • James Orred

    Tyler, yours is a post I always open!

    This latest is one of the best. I think we should aim to ‘be vulnerable enough so people can connect with you, and strong enough to gain their respect.’

    And the model is Jesus, fully God, fully man, who on earth became so amazingly vulnerable, while ever earning the most respect ever from heaven and earth.

    Keep up the great writing. Hope to meet up some day, too!

  • Payton

    Hey Tyler. Phenomenal words and very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing!

    What is most scary about being vulnerable? That I might be perceived and treated, based upon what I am not, rather than what I am.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @disqus_oi5s490ou0:disqus: Being misunderstood keeps me trapped too. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @jamesorred:disqus: Always encouraging, you are James. Thanks for it.

    I love the balance of vulnerability and strength that you’re pointing to. And I think its a real answer to the negative associations we have with vulnerability. The invitation to be vulnerable with our weaknesses should be immediately followed with one to learn how to be confident in our strengths. Thoughts?

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @disqus_emP818v1oO:disqus: All so true. And sadly, its often true that there are more people than not that will take advantage of someones vulnerability out of their own discomfort, insecurity…etc.

    In Brene Browns book Daring Greatly (cited above), she speaks to this well. I’d encourage the read for anyone wrestling with what vulnerability with boundaries looks like.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @chancescoggins:disqus: You’re my inspiration for it all. :) Honestly, though, this post was directly inspired by your recent and brilliant display of vulnerable leadership: http://www.chancescoggins.com/i-quit

    Thanks for it.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @calebsg0:disqus: I can relate. Im sure its as irrational as my fear as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @clarissabezerra:disqus: all very true. thanks for sharing your thoughts…

  • http://www.chancescoggins.com/ chance

    Well, that’s an honor. I love where it led you because your response gave me back something beautiful in return. Thanks for THAT! :)

  • James Orred

    You asked for this Tyler!

    I see Jesus’ vulnerability when his mother and brothers came to do an intervention. They had decided he had gone mad. (Mark 3) But he responded by giving a teaching on doing the will of the Father. He acknowledged their presence, but didn’t allow them to deter him from his work.

    When immediate family members don’t “get you,” that is painful! And Mary had even experienced a personal heads up from an angel.

    What is the only place we are told Jesus got financial support? Luke give the names of three women, among “many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.” This in a male-dominated culture!

    When Lazarus–one of his closest friends–died, Jesus is shown weeping

    Paul’s final goodbye to the Ephesian elders is recorded showing a group of men, all leaders, kneeling on the floor, kissing Paul, and weeping. Then we are told, that Paul and Luke “tore” themselves from them, got on the ship, and sailed onwards to Jerusalem.

    Vulnerability totally enhances leadership. But great courage to not come under the expectations of friends is always there, as well. That builds trust and respect.

    Pain and weakness become a threshold to the culture. When a leader shows his/her heart, including some emotion, it becomes something that connects people to us even more strongly.

  • Nathaniel Durgasingh

    Good read again Tyler. I can definitely agree with the notion that showing vulnerability invites a type of human connection that you won’t get if masks of perfection are on.

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  • http://www.skipprichard.com/ Skip Prichard

    I love Brene’s word and the power of vulnerability. Thank you for sharing these words with us, Tyler. Keep it up and you may be a superhero…. :)

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