Recently, I have been reflecting on the relationship between vulnerability and leadership, for two reasons, really:
One, after years of quoting Brene Brown’s
“You can have courage, or you can have comfort, but you can’t have both”
I finally read, her book Daring Greatly. How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead.
It certainly helped me to see that increasingly those of us that are called to lead and instigate change cannot expect to be comfortable. Discomfort is most likely to become a familiar companion.
Two, observing Theresa May’s speech at the recent Tory party conference and our reaction to it.
It is not my intention or wish to become embroiled in a political discussion, but I am curious to understand what this means about how we see leadership and what we expect from our leaders.
Do we expect too much or indeed too little from our leaders?
Do we only want to see vulnerability and human frailty in our leaders, when it suits us, when it feels safe? Is it perhaps our own discomfort with vulnerability that stops us from accepting it in our leaders or others?
Had never really given the idea of vulnerability much thought other than to try and avoid it until I started noticing, people stepping into the ‘arena’ and sharing their stories, their feelings, their values and their why. They were giving us real access to their struggles, their highs, their lows and we the audience seemed to engage and respond to it more.
So, on one level, we like stories and we want to know what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. But, on another level we like having the reassurance of knowing that our leaders are always on top of things, they are certain about their vision and certain about what needs to be done. And if there are uncertainties and doubts we prefer not to see them.
Perhaps for leaders it’s more about getting the timing and the balance between the two just right.
However, in today’s world of ever increasing change, global instability, economic uncertainty and the ability of news and social media to whip things up in an instant. I believe it’s unrealistic to expect a leader to have such a clear and untarnished view, the future is not going to be so clearly mapped out. It’s not going to be enough to point the finger and state, ‘that’s where we need to go’.
It strikes me that leaders may need to take on the role of navigators, prepared to assess the terrain and make the changes as situations evolve. Leaders will need to be agile, open to learning and open to using/utilising the skills and talents of all the people around them.
In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown suggests ‘ a leader is anyone who holds her – or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes’.
For me this only partly explains or captures the notion of leadership, so I dug around and picked out three from Lolly Daskels helpful article, 100 answers to the question, what is leadership?
‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ‘ John Quincy Adams
‘ Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others’ – Lance Secretan
‘ I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers’ – Ralph Nader
Out of the 100 available on Lolly’s list these were the ones that did it for me. I like the idea of leaders supporting, creating and mentoring new leaders. Am totally on board with the idea that real leadership is a human and I would add, humane activity.
If you want to pick out your own favourites, the full article is available here.
It seems self-evident that there is a strong link between vulnerability and leadership, and one that most of us probably accept at one level. If you are going to lead, you are by definition, ‘exposing yourself to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally’.
It could be argued that you can’t really lead unless you are prepared to be vulnerable.
In Daring Greatly, vulnerability is described as:
‘Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. ‘
I love the idea that leadership needs to be present and engaged come what may.
Whatever happens we need our leaders to be all in and perhaps for this to happen we need to accept and celebrate their vulnerabilities and frailties.
Until next time