I was recently in a conversation with a diverse group of men and women who crossed several economic and age demographics. The topic of vulnerability came up and I was struck that while a handful of people seemed okay with it, the vast majority of us, myself included, admitted to having a hard time with being vulnerable.
I recognize this same difficulty in most of my clients and it got me thinking about why so many of us wrestle so much with this issue. I believe there are three (3) main reasons why vulnerability is hard and while I believe these reasons are true for everyone, I think they are especially true for women leaders.
Vulnerability = Weakness
The most common misconception about vulnerability is that it is the same as weakness and NOBODY wants to be perceived as weak. For men in particular, weakness is considered the cardinal sin of manhood so men often have a hard time being vulnerable.
Women in leadership often fall into this same trap because of unspoken expectations that you “man up” if you want to be a good leader. You are tasked with being strong for the sake of those you lead, which means you must have it together all the time. Any indication to the contrary is judged as you being not good enough for the job.
This lie is harming women’s souls on multiple levels. Women leaders are left feeling alone and unsupported all because they’ve bought into the lie that vulnerability means weakness.
The truth is being vulnerable requires an incredible amount of courage and courage requires strength. It takes more strength to open up and be truthful about where you are than it does to wear a mask that everything is okay when it’s not.
As far as I’m concerned, vulnerability in leadership is actually a sign of a good leader.
Vulnerability = Neediness
Connected to the idea of weakness is the sense that vulnerability equals neediness. This is probably the top reason why vulnerability is hard for me. I don’t do neediness. I have a hard time managing it in myself, and an equally hard time managing it in others.
The thing is, we are all needy! As Maslow demonstrated a long time ago, by virtue of the fact that we are human, we all have basic needs and desires. So neediness is kind of a given as a human.
The kind of neediness that vulnerability brings to mind is the unhealthy, clingy kind that demands a lot of attention. It’s the kind that seeks constant validation and sucks the energy right out of you.
We’ve all experienced that type of person in our lives and vulnerability is quickly connected to being that person.
But vulnerability only translates to unhealthy neediness when your sense of who you are is dependent on people and factors outside of yourself.
When you are anchored in your enoughness you can be vulnerable enough to express your need without demanding that everyone around you be responsible to meet those needs.
Vulnerability = Opens us up to shame
When you are vulnerable you open yourself up to being judged by others, which puts you at risk for feeling shame and shame is a very powerful emotion.
Brene Brown defines it as the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame robs you of feeling connected to others, which is the innate desire of all human beings.
The thing about shame is the power it has over you is connected to your own sense of self. The more you know yourself to be worthy, regardless of your flaws, the less power shame has over you.
You will make mistakes. Other people will judge you. Those are given if you’re in leadership (shoot it’s a given if you’re alive). But another person’s judgment of you becomes most important only if you let it. Your worthiness is not dependent on someone else’s validation of you.
You are worthy just because you are. To decide that you will shut yourself off and lead from behind a wall is to do yourself and those around you a huge disservice.
I’m not advocating that you tell everything to everyone because that’s not wise. What I am saying is take the risk to open up to someone in your world. Model what it looks like to be vulnerable.
It WILL feel uncomfortable but being comfortable is over-rated. Everyone knows all the magic in life happens outside your comfort zone. So take the risk today. You may be surprised what you discover about yourself and about someone else in your world.
Here’s to you risking vulnerability and rising into your greatness!
From my heart to yours,