Where Vulnerability Begins

As leaders, when it comes to getting to the heart of building sustainable and high-performing teams, vulnerability is key. As I shared in the first article of this Vulnerability Series, Becoming Fearless, the most impactful moments are the ones where our people feel safe to open up and become truly vulnerable with one another.

See, surface-level sharing isn’t enough for our team. They need the opportunity to reflect upon and challenge their stories. Only when we challenge our stories, can we rewrite them. And only when we get vulnerable can we be willing and able to authentically rewrite them with genuine self-awareness.

Guess what, leaders? Vulnerability starts with us. As I’ve learned over the last twenty years of coaching, and as you have no doubt observed in your own coaching experiences, we cannot motivate others to be vulnerable if we are not willing to be vulnerable ourselves. We must model the behavior we wish to inspire.

We need to give ourselves permission to be vulnerable, to be willing to share our deepest feelings and frustrations. Sometimes that means even sharing our negative self-talk that may be eroding our confidence and productivity. Only when we say these things out loud and declare them can we get the perspective we need to see things differently.

Vulnerability opens the door for progress and growth. And that’s how it works every time.

Modeling the Way

As leaders, we must both model vulnerability and amplify it. Vulnerability is the wick of the collective candle, if you will. Without it, there can be no fueling of the flames, no igniting of potential.

When we model vulnerability to our team and department, we give others permission to be vulnerable themselves. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. I learned from my mentorship under Brené Brown as a Dare to Lead certified coach, “Vulnerability feels like fear but looks like courage.” In addition, Brown’s research demonstrates over and over again that courage is contagious.

Yet everyone, every generation, at every business level, struggles with being vulnerable. And often, lack of confidence holds us back both personally and professionally. Our story about “not being good enough” keeps us from going for the promotion, setting healthy boundaries, or dreaming big.

As a result, we tend to think we shouldn’t advocate for ourselves because it could sound like bragging or complaining. I have found that women and those identifying with femininity especially struggle with this reality. Many of us were taught, often at our mother’s knee, that nice girls don’t brag.

We’re told that being “boastful” makes others feel “less than.” So we learn to keep our successes private and, even if we do share them, we often downplay their significance.

There is a very real cost to that limiting mindset, both to individuals and to organizations. As an individual, it can cost in terms of career mobility and life fulfillment. In organizations and on our teams, when we don’t create the intentional space for celebrating and acknowledging who is really good at what, folks simply don’t know who in their network they can learn from to succeed when confronted by similar challenges. Everyone ends up repeatedly reinventing the wheel and feeling alone.

In fact, there may be hundreds or even thousands of people in your organization struggling with what they think is an individual challenge that is actually part of a collective experience—they just lack the vehicle for knowledge transfer through which to learn how to solve it. Withholding our successes actually prevents us from sharing important insights with others. We lose innovation, creativity, and progress.

Modeling the way requires a degree of vulnerability that simply is not found in most corporate settings. When it comes right down to it, vulnerability is the fuel that feeds the flames of successful team building and group coaching.

As we leaders know, especially if we are coaching in Western cultures, it often does not come naturally. Consequently, the process and environment of our organizations must be crafted with intention.

The Hidden Value of Vulnerability

People rarely choose to walk alone on their career and life journey. More often than not, we simply get so busy we forget to invest in personal relationships at home and at work. The unfortunate and unintentional consequence is that in doing so, we limit ourselves and others.

When we hide our light under a bushel, not only can we no longer see what’s directly in front of us, but no one else can benefit from the radiance. ​The beauty of peer mentoring is that in a room full of light, we no longer feel alone. We finally give ourselves permission to shine.

To understand more about how each of us can let our light shine, and how you as a leader can use the PEER Framework to ignite the potential in your team and department, read all about it in both of my books The PEER Revolution: Group Coaching that Ignites the Power of People and The New Workspace: Best Practices for Fostering Collaboration and Community in Remote or Hybrid Teams.