Vulnerability is an Asset not a Liability

What do you think of when you hear the words, “I am accepted, and I am loved?” When I heard those words from a participant of EWOP last week, it was hard to hide the emotions. EWOP stands for Empowering Women Out of Prison. We go into a correctional facility and work directly with women while they serve their sentence. The goal? Total transformation from the inside out through leadership development, mentorship, and college-level entrepreneurship coursework. For those of you that know me, you know how important this program is to me. I’m never sure who is helping who. At the end of the event, one of the participants was asked what the best compliments she had ever received was, she said “I am accepted and love.” Powerful and vulnerable! Can you recall a time someone said that to you? Can you think of a time you told someone that? At this point you must be thinking, what does that have to do with leadership? Being vulnerable in a professional setting is seen as a liability. It exposes too much and is seen as weak. That is not true at all, leaders that demonstrate vulnerability are seen as courageous, authentic, and trusted by their teams. How is that something we fear is not only one of the characteristics we admire most in our leaders, and something that makes us human. Being vulnerable and authentic is what creates connection and trust, and yet its missing in our workplace and has become more noticeable now that we are moving back into our workplaces, and are looking to connect, engage and collaborate with those we missed.

How do you, as a leader bring the humanness back into the workplace?

Let your vulnerability and authenticity through. Share your experiences with your team, we all have gone through quite a bit. It’s okay to let your team know it wasn’t easy. Model what it means to be authentic.

Show your empathy and connect with them. You don’t need to resolve their problem or minimize it; just listen and ask how you can support them.

Give your team feedback on their strengths and opportunities. Celebrate the wins, and the little things too. It’s the little things that empower them even more, and never, avoid feedback that helps them develop and grow. The words, “everything’s fine keep doing what you’re doing”, is not helpful. Let them know what’s working and what’s not and help them figure out how they can improve.

Embrace failure because failure is a learning experience. Remind them you appreciate them and know they can grow from this. Take the time to discuss what happened and how it can be improved for next time. Review the steps they can take in the future.

Say “thank you”, and not just because it’s that time of the year; say it because you mean it. Keeping our head in the sand, pretending things aren’t happening all around us, is not possible. Recognize the resilience it takes to show up and give it our all every day.

Opportunities to be vulnerable and authentic show up at work every day, start by saying thank you. This time of the year gives us the perfect opportunity to start.

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