The Art of Vulnerability

I wouldn’t trade in the UK home I grew up in…even with all the rain! My Dad was an executive coach and my Mum was a counsellor so I had all I needed to sound out life’s challenges. These days it’s not too different. Sure, I may be living on the other side of the world but there is barely a fortnight that goes by where we’re not digitally face-to-face. This invariably means I utter the words “whilst I have you…what do you think about this?”. This has been all the more true with the recent launch of Mountain Top Consulting and the challenges that come with stepping out alone.

I have always valued having coaches, mentors, and trusted advisors for every aspect of my life and whilst my parents taught me many things over the years, one skill they gave me which I value greatly is the art of vulnerability. Today it seems that vulnerability is one of those things we undervalue and the primary reason I can see for this is fear – let me elaborate:

We are aware of the potential value of being vulnerable –

“if I tell that person a bit about who I am and what I am struggling with, they may be able to help me and together we can push on”

– but –

When it comes down to it –

“if I tell that person a bit about who I am and what I’m struggling with, their opinion of me might change.”

It’s a game of risk!

For those familiar with the classic board game, victory will always require calculating the risk and rolling the dice. In life and especially at work, showing our weaknesses, admitting we don’t have the answers, leaning on others for support, letting others take the lead, even simply asking for a hand comes with the inherent risk that we may in some way lose something…respect, control, authority, credibility…and losing any of these scares us! There is a great deal of risk in being vulnerable, but the reward is there if we can only see it, and if we play it right.

One of the most watched TEDx Talks of all time is ‘The Power of Vulnerability’by Brené Brown. I put its success down to the shareworthy, chord-striking, relatability of her message. Simply enough Brené’s research has shown that the people who are commonly happiest are those who are most comfortable to be vulnerable. The reason for this is that being vulnerable counteracts the controlling influence of shame and deepens our connection with others. This in turn brings a fullness and richness to life through increased emotional wellbeing. I loved everything she had to say so I wanted to spend some time applying this to a professional setting.

We all want good relationships with our colleagues but a reality I see is that vulnerability also has the power to actually make teams and organisations stronger and more resilient. In being vulnerable we do two things:

  1. We get to know ourselves better. This allows us to recognise and leverage our strengths, and identify and address weaknesses.
  2. We get to know each other better. Connections grow with people that we did not have before meaning we have better support structures.

That being said, vulnerability is an art and should go hand in hand with wisdom.

Applied Vulnerability!

Vulnerability in the workplace is has a different objective to vulnerability in your personal life. In your personal life, the objective of vulnerability is to grow and deepen trust with loved ones. The natural product of this is meaningful relationships which can greatly improve our wellbeing.

At work, the objective of vulnerability is to create a culture psychological safety. This offers your team a safe environment to share ideas, thoughts, opinions and feedback. If this can be achieved, then we will see vulnerability bring a freedom to the way your team collaborates and innovates because when people are happy to share, conversation begins and ideas flow. Here are some basic guidelines to help you get there:

  1. Be honest from the outset and paint a picture for your team of the type of conversation and discussion you want to see.
  2. Set some ground rules for discussion and providing feedback which promote honestly without accusation.
  3. Hold team goals tightly and individual goals loosely. Team first…ego second!
  4. Invite feedback and opinion at every opportunity and value the ideas of others above your own.
  5. Be the first to share when you are wanting others to do the same.
  6. Admit your weaknesses and knowledge gaps to let others fill in the blanks.
  7. You don’t get team vulnerability by publicly identifying other people’s weaknesses for them!
  8. Don’t shy away from conflict, just keep it constructive. It’s not a case of pointing fingers but owning outcomes together.
  9. Everyone will embrace this culture at a different pace, and a potential reality is that some may not. Watch out for this, if may be something you need to address one-on-one.
  10. Don’t give up. Cultural change is always the slowest.

Find a coach

A good coach is going to develop your vulnerability skills. They are going to ask you tough questions, challenge your thinking, call out your destructive behaviours and keep you accountable on your objectives. Expect you see your productivity increase and some of your behaviours change. Also, a coach offers a sounding board for ideas and strategies prior to team meetings and opportunity to debrief afterwards. Hopefully your coach will be helping you to become a coach yourself and you will recognise impact of this on your team.

Wherever possible, look for an external coach. The benefit that comes from having a more confidential arrangement and a coach whose sole objective is to boost your performance is significant. You will find your own willingness to be vulnerable will be higher from the outset and you can know that there will be little or no politics involved in the relationship.

Try coaching for free.

Until the end of 2019 I’m offering a free 2-hour coaching session. See the value of quality coaching for yourself. For more information please get in touch.