Good Evening!  This One’s for Amy!

It’s been a rough week!  Many of my conversations have included discussions that sought to understand the tragedy that occurred last week in Nevada; a tragedy that has occurred several times before and, in all likelihood, will occur again.  One friend said, “I’ve never felt so vulnerable.  It doesn’t matter whether you are at work, shopping, or simply going to a concert, you’re not safe anywhere!”  A second, more personal tragedy occurred Friday with the passing of a former student who would later become a professional colleague, friend, and teacher to many. Amy was a mountain of courage; always smiling, always “Hatlee Strong” but like all of us, vulnerable.  As I thought about the week, I remembered two books that I’d read within the past year that examine the idea of “Vulnerability”.  Written by Brene’ Brown, the books, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, recognize that on a daily basis we all experience the uncertainty, risks and emotional exposure that defines what it means to be vulnerable. The question is, Do you have the courage to dare greatly?  Let’s consider this idea from a personal, workplace and leadership perspective.

On April 23, 1910, President Teddy Roosevelt delivered a speech (Citizenship in a Republic) at the Sobonne in Paris, France.  Within the speech is an extended passage that has become known as, “The Man in the Arena”:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It is only by recognizing our vulnerability that we summon the courage to step in that arena!

In her MindQuest Post last year, Embracing “Vulnerability” and being “Brave”. Personal conversations on “Stepping into the Arena”, Justine Cambell considers the ideas of vulnerability and daring greatly.  She utilizes an interview process to dispel many of the myths associated with vulnerability and shine a light on it’s personal and professional value.  Some ideas include:

• “Everything you are looking for in a fulfilled and happy life starts right here, in being truly and comfortably vulnerable and brave.”

• “Rarely is comfortable choice the courageous choice!”

• “Vulnerability is all about showing up and allowing yourself to be seen, when there are no guarantees as to how it will turn out.”

• “When we are exposed to the possibility of attack or failure, we are also exposed to the possibility of greatness.”

• “Vulnerability isn’t about being weak, it’s about being open, open to the possibility of failure and the possibility of success.”

We don’t “step into the arena” when we pass up opportunities that make us feel uncomfortable. Further, we don’t step into the arena when we don’t try because we know there is the possibility that we might fail!”

“Friends are the family you have chosen.  Ultimately it will be your friends who are going to help pick you up, dust you off, and get you back into the arena.”

“The critics are the ones who are not into the arena in their own lives.”

Perhaps the most common critic that we all know are the critics we have in our own head. We need to work out whether the self-talk is worth listening to in order to protect us from danger, or whether it is just us struggling with taking that courageous step into vulnerability.”

“If we are brave enough often enough we will fall, this is the physics of vulnerability!

Embracing vulnerability is an act of courage!  As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take!”  Take the shot!

So if vulnerability is an attribute, why don’t we see it more in the work environment?  Simply put, it’s a matter of trust.  Mick Mooney, a Business Storyteller Trainer/Coach from Sydney, Australia examines this idea in his “Linked-In” post, Vulnerability in the Workplace:  Why It’s About Trust More that Courage.  Mooney begins with the idea that being vulnerable is an asset to the work environment, “It’s about wanting to make a meaningful contribution to your team and your organization. Vulnerability creates clarity, and clarity is a major driver in all progress.” However everything is predicated on the climate of the workplace. Why?  Because vulnerability is about speaking with courage in order to move forward personally and from an organizational perspective.  It may involve exposing personal and system weaknesses with the intention that the weaknesses are addressed and a solution applied.  It takes courage, but the author maintains what is really needed is trust.  So how does one create an environment that embraces vulnerability?  Mooney identifies three key elements to create a welcoming workplace environment for vulnerability:

1 Honesty – Mooney maintains it starts with the staff.  Do they want to be honest?  Do they want to share their frustrations? Do they want to share what is real and their real feelings?  “Without a commitment to honesty, vulnerability will be avoided.”

2 Trust – This is directed at leadership.  If an employee is willing to be honest, can they trust the leaders with whom they are sharing their vulnerability? Has leadership made it clear that vulnerability and growth is embraced within the organization? Equally important, will leadership take action to bring about the change needed?  If there is no action or follow-up, trust is compromised.

3 Progress – This answers the basic question, If I expose my vulnerability and open up, will it serve any purpose?  “Being vulnerable is all about being honest, and the motivation behind that is to see things change, both personally and for the benefit of the team and organization. If someone shares openly, but it does not result in any change, then it becomes too risky a venture to try again. There has to be an outcome that moves things forward.”

Think about your workplace.  Does it reflect an environment that embraces Honesty, Trust and Progress?  Hopefully yes!  If not, why not dare greatly?

The benefits to leaders who dare greatly are considered in John Boitnott’s post, The Many Benefits of Being a Vulnerable, Transparent Leader.  Boinott begins by again exposing the myth that leadership is about being strong, unshakable and unwavering. He points out that more than not, leaders with those qualities are also considered to be cold and unapproachable.  When staff see that their leader(s) have concerns and dreams, they more often than not see someone like themselves.  Someone they may even like and want to do a better job for.  So what are the attributes of vulnerable leaders:

• Vulnerable Leaders Make Mistakes and Admit to Them – It takes courage to fess up to mistakes or poor decisions, but the transparency may increase respect that team members have for the leader

• Vulnerable Leaders Listen – The manner in which you react to a team member’s input is critical.  Do you listen, do you ask non-threatening questions?  Do you express appreciation for their willingness to provide input?  Your goal as a leader is to model and inspire your team to be vulnerable and have the courage to provide input.

• Vulnerable Leaders Show Empathy – Empathy enables leaders to perceive things through the eyes and feelings of their team.  Errors are met with correction and forward progress, not hostile criticism.  Younger staff see the leader as someone interested in hearing their ideas and showing an interest in their future.

• Vulnerable Leaders Validate Employee Feelings – A true sense of team (“We’re all in this together”) permeates the organization.  When things get tough there is openness and transparency.  Leaders display their vulnerability by being truthful with the team.  The transparency combined with words of determination and a plan to embrace the challenges facing the organization usually results with the team lining up with the leader to move forward.

The back cover of Daring Greatly contains the following: 

“Everyday we experience the uncertainty, risks and emotional exposure that defines what it is to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly.  Based on twelve years of pioneering research Dr. Brene’ Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.” 

It’s unfortunate that Dr. Brown never met Amy.  She could have saved her many years of research, for if there was ever a person who’s vulnerability served to demonstrate a courage that would inspire all who met her, it was Amy. We are all better for having known Amy, and what better way to honor her than by having the courage to be vulnerable.

Be like Amy, Embrace the Challenge,