How Vulnerability Strengthens Teams and Leaders

How Vulnerability Strengthens Teams and Leaders

Fear of Failure Limits Our Courage

Brené Brown is a renowned researcher, speaker, and professor who has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. Brown is the author of four books: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. Dr. Brown describes her bottom line: “I believe that vulnerability—the willingness to be “all in” even when you know it can mean failing and hurting—is brave.

In business, there’s often a delineation between what we would choose to do in our personal lives because the stakes are deemed higher, more people are involved, including the precious ego but most importantly, the fear of failure which limits and constricts our courage. In her book Rising Strong, Brené describes a situation in which Andrew, a sales manager of an advertising agency, finds himself in a predicament where he had to make a very tough choice personally and professionally—one that would impact not just him individually and potentially his career and livelihood but the livelihood of  a department and the agency.

Andrew was in charge of a sales team going after a very large advertising account. Everything was on the line for the business to win this account and they invested many months’ worth of work going after the account and preparing for the agency review meeting. The night before the presentation, Andrew discovers an unethical situation about the brand they are vying for and wrestles that evening and the following morning with the most difficult decision in his career. Ultimately, Andrew made the decision to pass on the presentation. After the initial fire storm died down, the unethical brand made the needed changes, apologized for their unscrupulous tactics, and Andrew’s team won the account a few months later but of course Andrew didn’t know any of this when he made the decision to back out at the very last minute—something that frightened him and using one of Dr. Brown’s words, was one of the biggest “rumbles” of his career.

An excerpt from Dr. Brene Brown, Rising Strong

People who wade into discomfort and vulnerabilities and tell the truth about their stories are the real bad asses. I think this is why I appreciate Andrew’s story so much. Here’s a person, a leader, who didn’t have to own anything. He could have shifted the blame to his own team or to the brand’s disrespectful team. Instead he had the courage to feel shame, feel pain, to reach out and be vulnerable with a friend, and to own his part and stand in front of his team and be accountable.

The delta between “I am a screw up” and “I screwed up” may look small but in fact it’s huge. Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swamp land to get to a place where we can be both imperfect and to believe we are enough.

Having the courage to own our mistakes, screwups, and failures, and to embed these key learnings from these rumbles into our lives, our families, and our organizations yields the same results as adding nutrient-reach humus into soil: it brings growth and new vitality.

Reflection and Application

Being vulnerable means that we go all out in our endeavors knowing that our intentions are good but sometimes we fall down and “screw up”. These screw ups as Brené calls them, are really our steering points to developing a better self, a better employee, a better company, and better citizens. As Dr. Brown imparts, we need to do a better job of bridging the gap between what we pursue in personal development and how we make decisions in our professional world and be equally brave in our professional lives as we are in our personal lives.

I encourage you in your day-to-day work duties to consider how being vulnerable may help you to achieve better outcomes, nurture relationships, and overall improve your output.

Further Reading

I’m a voracious reader and if you haven’t read any of Brené Brown’s work, I highly recommend you check out  her books and her website, as she’s one of the most inspiring writers I’ve read in a while. If you struggle to finish books or “find time” to read, here’s a link to a book summary which does a really good job summarizing the book for the time-crunched individual who values a great message. For additional information on Dr. Brené Brown, check out her site.

I dare you to be vulnerable and incorporate vulnerability to overcome the notion that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness but instead a strength and an outward sign that you are indeed brave.

by Jena Taylor