Earlier in the summer I was traveling back to London on Eurostar after a business trip to Paris.
As I reclined my seat to relax...I put on my headphones and started to scroll through the music on my iPhone....I stopped at my late 70s/early 80s 'new wave' playlist...reminders of university days...and started to listen to "Boys Don't Cry" by The Cure.
The words "Boys Don't Cry" started to make my mind wonder back to the topic of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is not something you see CEOs exhibit that often. Probably because it is usually perceived as a sign of weakness. However, in reality the contrary is true.
Vulnerability is a strength.
But, to show vulnerability you need inner confidence and a high level of self-awareness.
Rene Brown has studied vulnerability and sums it up nicely by saying it is the "courage to show up and be seen".
As part of her research Rene Brown asked thousands of people to talk about times they felt vulnerable. Their answers were very revealing and included statements like "when I started my business" and "owning up to something they did wrong". She went on to discover that none of the statements relating to vulnerability were about weaknesses, but instead about a more accurate measure of courage.
In James DeLong's work he shares the view that:
"Unfortunately, most professionals, from young consultants to CEOs are reluctant to try something new for fear they'll look dumb, awkward, hesitant, incompetent, and so on. As a result, they stick with what they know at the expense of taking risks, stretching themselves, and being innovative."
This James DeLong feels is because when you try something new, you are likely to do it poorly at first and this will make you vulnerable.
Hence, we tend to stick (almost quite literally) to our routine behaviours. This in turn can lead to a fixed mindset that can in turn lead to stopping all progress (Ref. Carol Dwerk).
Simply being aware of this fact can help you on the path to change.
Perhaps the lesson here is to be brave enough to try whatever it is you have been putting off and being aware that by doing it, it is a measure of your courage as it will likely mean you will need to show your vulnerable side.
And to quote John Gardner:
"We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure all your life."
Recently I was talking to a professional who specialises in C-level outplacement, in effect helping out-of-work CEOs and senior executives get back on their feet. They commented that when they work with clients they have an openness, a truthfulness, a vulnerability to them that can too often be replaced with a 'harder exterior' when they see them back in their new workplace. Their reflection was, "how much more effective might they be in their top team if they showed their vulnerable side."
So although The Cure sing "Boys Don't Cry"...perhaps CEOs should be prepared to share their vulnerabilities if they are to change and be more effective. Just a thought.
The Cure, "Boys Don't Cry" - a great record! - listen to it at this link...click (opens new window)
Rene Brown, "Daring Greatly - How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead", Publisher: Portfolio Penguin (2013).
Rene Brown, Watch her Ted talk - click here to view on YouTube (opens new window)
Thomas J DeLong, "Flying Without a Net - Turn Fear of Change into Fuel for Success", Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (2011).
Carol Dwerk, "Mindset - How You Can Fulfill Your Potential", Publisher: Ballantine Books (2007).
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