Somehow, I think we’ve all created – and perpetuated – the myth that leaders need to be strong and infallible. That there can be no cracks in your armor or skeletons in your closet. That it’s best to look like you always have it together and aren’t ever questioning or scared. That is – we are told and we tell others – what makes followers want to follow you.
I’m here to question that myth.
I recently released a memoir, to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence, and it has certainly increased my vulnerability. Friends, family, clients, and strangers now know more about me than maybe anyone should ever know. I talk with people and find myself wondering how far they’ve gotten in the book, what part they’re up to, what they’ve learned about me and my past.
It’s a weird, weird feeling, and a quite, quite vulnerable one. And it’s taught me something wildly important and eye-opening about leadership, and about people in general.
I wrote the book because I wanted to spread a message of hope and love. I’ve come to believe that we are – as a species perhaps – generally too damn hard on ourselves. I have friends, family members, and way too many clients who I’ve witnessed self-criticize and self-judge – more harshly than they would ever criticize and judge anyone else. I’ve come to believe that we are – or at least many of us are – hiding “secrets” that we’re ashamed of and childhood stories and scars that still get in our way.
So I told my story and vulnerable-ized myself. Since publication, friends, family, clients, and strangers have reached out to me to say “thank you.” “You’ve given us all courage to tell our childhood stories,” one neighbor wrote to me. “You mentioned Al-Anon when you spoke,” a friend of my child said to me, “and no one talks about Al-Anon, and everyone should because I never knew it was there. And I needed it so much.” “I identified with the torment you felt that day on the bridge,” another friend of my child said to me, “thank you for being so honest about it.” “I so identify,” client upon client has written to me. “Thank you.”
My opening up has helped others open up. My vulnerability has, I believe, helped them feel less vulnerable in what they’re suffering from or hiding inside themselves. My admitting to how human I am, and how difficult that is and has been at times, has, perhaps, helped others feel more accepting of themselves.
So, what does this have to do with leadership? This experience has reaffirmed my belief that when leaders can be real, when they can admit their foibles and struggles – and their journeys through to the other side and the things they’ve learned – they can connect more deeply and genuinely with the people they’re leading…and that only helps everyone show up more authentically and wholly at work…which leads to greater engagement. (And apparently Brené Brown agrees with me. Read her recent LinkedIn article.) When we put our leaders up on pedestals – or when they put themselves up there – it separates us. And it gives them quite a long way to fall down if they stumble.
Vulnerability is not a dirty word. It’s an important part of being human…and of leading.
How have you been vulnerable and how has it helped you?
Please leave a comment.
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For support in being more vulnerable in your leadership (and nicer to yourself), contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo Credit: Lisa Kohn/LisaKohnWrites.com