Posted by: malstott | September 17, 2012

Vulnerability: weakness or strength?

At the age of 8 Dawn Hanson and I rode our bikes down to VanDriel’s, our local drugstore, bought penny candy, made kool-aid and set up the best refreshment stand in Mount Prospect. Of course we marked that candy up and ended up with quite a profit between the candy and the high margin kool-aid. This worked well until a couple of bullies dropped dry ice in our kool-aid and ran off with our candy. At least they didn’t get our money but all in all the day was a bust. The entrepreneurial experiment was not. We went back at it on future days with our kool-aid covered and our bulk candy safely hidden. I don’t remember if we told on those boys (yes, they were boys) but I also don’t remember them returning. Success? All in all, I think so.

Given my story you can see where I land in answer to the title question. In business it is important to step out and take risks even though that makes you vulnerable and likely you will get pounded at one point or another. However, without that vulnerability you will not grow in understanding of yourself or your business. Let’s take this one step further. How do this impact us in the realm of career management and personal growth?

While I might be one of the first to celebrate the value of predictability, analytical approaches and execution to commitments, there is room and critical value to ambiguity, risk taking and vulnerability. How do you stuff those opposing characteristics into one being? Practice and mindful development is the answer I have found.

The word courage is from the latin root word “cor” which means heart. That is why this whole process gets personal. There is a need in leadership and in business to be self-aware of your heart and what you are feeling. You need to be willing to open that heart up to failure and to criticism. Practicing is all about stepping forward into areas of discomfort in order to exercise that vulnerability. We can’t protect ourselves from scrutiny if we are to be open-hearted, vulnerable leaders.

The base on which to build is one of self-awareness and a sense of worthiness. I am enough. I am capable. I have something to offer to the world. Yes, I have weaknesses and I make mistakes but those do not stop me. Here is what I need to ask myself regularly:

1. What would I do here if I wasn’t afraid?

2. What is the very worst that could happen and can I handle that downside? (I would not say that risk should be taken without weighing the consequences and mitigating within reason.)

3. How am I influencing others through this action? Do I really need to step out and be seen in order to set the right example?

4. Am I holding back based on shame or based on what others might think? What is driving that?

This idea of being vulnerable and allowing oneself to take bold risks is important to the success of people in general but I submit that this is a key challenge and sticking point for women in business. I will come back to this in later posts but for now I would like to say that I, like many of my peers are inhibited by fear. Some fear is helpful so that we avoid picking fights with wild animals and walking alone down dark alleys. But fear to expose all of who we are and let others see our warts and vulnerabilities is fear to eliminate in order to become all that we can be. Easy to say and hard to do. Let us begin!


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