On Leadership, Vulnerability, & Freedom
I spent most of my life thinking about all my imperfections and about being wrong. And so do a lot of leaders.
Most of us travel through life in a kind of insulated bubble where we become deaf, dumb, and blind to our behaviors; consequently, we probably do not think that there is anything wrong with focusing on our imperfections and being wrong.
This is not only a problem for me and a few others. It is a cultural issue that has impacted our lives, communities, organizations, and families.
Leaning Into Discomfort
If we could step outside this comfort zone, lean into discomfort, and enter into this place of vulnerability and courage, this could be the greatest intellectual, creative, and moral leap we might ever make.
Let me start by asking you a couple of questions:
Now let me ask you a different question:
How you react during that time in between is critical.
Take A Trip Down Memory Lane
Reflect back to elementary school and the teacher handing out your test papers.
We started learning very early to be perfectionists and over-achievers. By the time you are seven years old you already know that people who succeed never make mistakes. You are doing things the wrong way if you are getting C's and you could even be considered dumb.
We insist that being right makes us feel smart and strong. My mantra became "get all A's".
When it comes to our families, our job as parents is not to tell our children they are perfect. Our job is to tell them they are imperfect and are wired to struggle but that they are worthy of success, love, and belonging.
On Being Right or Wrong
In the last performance appraisal I received from my boss, he shared 23 things I was doing really well, and included that "one opportunity for growth". All I could think about was that one thing I was doing wrong and not the 23 that I was doing right.
In my many years of research and working with individuals and teams, I have uncovered a few reasons why. I have also come to realize I am not the only one who has this need for perfection and fear of being wrong.
In order for the above to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and truly embrace vulnerability.
Brene Brown found in her research that happy, successful people believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
Why are we afraid to be vulnerable?
It stems from our fear of being wrong and goes back to this need to be perfect, for everyone, all the time.
This causes us to numb vulnerability, because we live in a vulnerable world. We can't selectively numb just the hard stuff, so we numb the good stuff too: Joy, happiness, gratitude, acceptance, and success.
Then we are miserable and looking for purpose, meaning, and connection, so instead, we have a glass of wine and a large pizza to numb all of it. Our escape.
This internal "rightness" we all experience so often is not a reliable guide to what's going on in the world. We don't know how to act when we make mistakes.
Think for a moment what it feels like to be right...
We often assume they are ignorant, idiots, or evil, and this leads to blame (i.e.: "They are 'wrong' because they disagree with me").
How can we learn to be comfortable with being wrong when we treat others this way?
Steps to Freedom
Our capacity to screw up, to be imperfect, is fundamental to who we are - not some kind of embarrassing defect to overcome.
Here are some strategies I have learned and am practicing daily:
Walk into the situation expecting to lose and win. Learn to be right sometimes, and wrong too.
How are you going to finish this sentence: I will try, but . Figure out what this "but" is, and feel the fear, and do it anyway.
Don't use human relationships as an excuse not to pursue your passions.
Take a Leap Of Faith
Step out of that tiny, limited arena of "rightness" into that courageous place of vulnerability. Look out and be able to say, "Wow, maybe I was wrong".
Practice Gratitude and Joy In Moments Of Terror
Stop and just say, "I am grateful to feel this. Vulnerability and possible mistakes mean I am stretching myself and I am alive."
Believe You Are Enough
When you work from this place that says, "I am enough", then you stop screaming and start listening. This allows you to be kinder and gentler to the people around you as well as to yourself.
Practicing these suggestions has changed my perception. It has changed the way I live, love, work, and parent. I hope it will for you too. I want to say to my clients, colleagues, employees, and kids, "Go for it" just like I did.
So, when you hear the term "vulnerable", do you only think "weakness"? Or can you think of it as a powerful tool to help regulate your thoughts, mindsets, and actions? How can you proceed with a new idea of vulnerability so that it is an effective tool for you in your personal, professional, family, and community life?
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