Being vulnerable has its risks, but make life more interesting; certainly it strengthens one’s effectiveness as a leader. –Robert K. Greenleaf
A few days ago I was having a conversation with a friend. Among other ways she serves, she coaches executives. One of the topics we spent time exploring was ‘wounds: delivered and received.’ As imperfect human beings we will be wounded by other imperfect human beings and we will wound others (at times we will even wound ourselves: self-violence). During our conversation I raised the concept of Being Vulnerable. Among other things, it is crucial for the leader (whether by role or by situation) to embrace this concept.
Although each of us is, I believe, called to embrace this concept, my focus this morning will be on the leader (again, the leader by role or by situation) as the one who is called to embrace: Being Vulnerable.
The word/concept Vulnerable is rooted in the Latin word, ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound gracefully.’ One of the ingredients for success for the leader lies in how he or she relates to the other(s) [the ‘other’ always includes the primary relationship: the relationship we have with ourselves].
An aside: I am, gentle reader, thinking about the leader who desires to build and sustain a ‘trusting relationship’ with the other(s). My experience these past 40+ years is that the leader who is wedded to coercion and manipulation and who motivates by demeaning criticism and fear-mongering is not interested in carrying any wound with grace; he or she is, however, interested in ‘getting even.’
We continue: As I noted earlier, one result of the leader’s relationship with the other(s) is that, at some time, wounds will be delivered and received. Consider that some of the most painful wounds are delivered ‘by accident’ (think: unintended consequence). I am recalling an owner who thought he had a great sense of humor (which, most of the time he did). However, he inadvertently delivered wounds via his sarcastic humor.
Shortly after I became his thought-partner I was in a meeting where he delivered such a wound. Later, as we debriefed how he facilitated the meeting I noted the ‘wound delivered.’ It took him a few minutes to accept the ‘possibility’ of a wound being delivered. Within a brief period of time, I could see in his eyes that he ‘got it’ and almost immediately he picked up the phone, called the person, invited the person into his office and, in front of me, processed the experience with the other. He apologized. He asked for, and was granted, forgiveness.
Then he did a remarkable thing. He called everybody together (at that time there were about sixty people working in this ‘professional organization’). He had someone make a list of those who were out of the building (so he could go to them later). He then apologized to the entire community. I can still see the tears washing down his face. He then asked for their help. He asked them to let him know when he delivered a wound to them (individually and collectively).
Because he, like all of us, was imperfect he continued to deliver ‘sarcastic’ wounds. However, within four months or so he had improved dramatically and the recipients were less likely to experience a wounding. An unintended consequence (by the by, gentle reader, there are always unintended consequences) was that there were fewer ‘wounds’ delivered’ throughout the organization and a number of relationships that were less than ‘trusting’ also improved (a few developed into deep trusting relationships).
Today, this organization has more than 800 employees and continues to be one of the great places to work.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. –Brené Brown