My favorite quote is from Teddy Roosevelt:
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 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…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
This quote is around vulnerability. The person in the arena is fighting, falling down, getting back up, yet continues to work and fight and give it his all. This is what we want from ourselves, our teams and our leaders. We all need to be in the arena, working together, making mistakes, learning, getting back up, and giving it our all. It’s in the arena when learning and innovation occurs, engagement increases and team productivity improves. When we are vulnerable, we are powerful, confident, and strong.
What exactly is vulnerability? It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about showing up, being seen, even when you cannot control the outcome. Being vulnerable is when you put yourself out there, doing things that may be uncomfortable, and then stumble, fall, and continue to get back up. Some examples of vulnerability include:
- When you make a mistake at work and need to tell people about it
- You do not get the promotion you wanted
- You are mis-treated by a leader
- You are made to feel ‘small’
- You are laid off
- You have to lay off others
- Starting your own business
- Giving negative feedback to others
- Coming home at night after a terrible day and putting a smile on your face for the sake of your family
- Telling your teams that the organization is not doing well
- Backstabbing others or being the victim of backstabbing
- Hiding behind your power, hoping nobody notices your fear or uncertainty
Many people consider vulnerability to be about shame, anxiety, weakness, and failure. However, vulnerability comes from the same place as courage, empathy, trust, engagement, innovation, and adaptability to change. These are all qualities which make organizations great. It’s important to understand that these emotions and leadership qualities cannot be separated. In other words, if you want have an innovative and courageous team, you need to be able to show up, be present, make mistakes, learn, fall down, and then get back up. You need to put yourself out there, even when you are unsure of the outcome.
To be a good leader is to be vulnerable. To be a passionate leader is to be vulnerable. If you ignore vulnerability, you will struggle motivating and engaging your teams. Being vulnerable means you are building trusting relationships and connecting with your teams, leaders, and peers. Vulnerability is about enabling people to see who you really are. It’s when your teams can see this, they start to truly be engaged, innovative, and connect with you and the organization.
Are you a vulnerable leader?
Brown, Brené., and 3M Company. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin Group US, 2012.