Vulnerability: The Importance of Letting People In
By: Devon Miller
Weak. Helpless. Powerless. When thinking about the word vulnerability, especially in the context of leadership, these are words that have popped into my head at one time or another. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought this way either. Why does being vulnerable make us weak? Why does it make us any less of a leader? Based on my own leadership experiences these last few years I found a very simple answer to both those questions: it doesn’t.
As leaders, a lot of us tend to put up walls between ourselves and the people we are leading for fear of judgement or being perceived as weak. We feel as though we need to be the strongest, most composed person in the room; the person who has all the answers. Through my own experiences, I’ve noticed that this doesn’t make for the most effective leadership. If anything, it makes us come off as unapproachable. I am currently one of the four students working on the Orientation Planning Executive Committee (OPEC) at Arcadia University, a small university near Philadelphia. As a member of OPEC, a substantial part of my job is working alongside professional staff members to recruit and train our Orientation Leader team. I’ve found that being vulnerable actually creates a more cohesive team.
Through my work with the orientation program I find myself in an environment where I am encouraged to build meaningful connections and relationships, which requires vulnerability. It involves exposing parts of ourselves that we don’t often show. Doing so only helps you grow as a leader. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not saying I’m an expert. It’s challenging and it’s uncomfortable to be vulnerable. The fear of judgement and the fear of seeming weak are legitimate and will not just disappear. What I can say is, over time, I’ve become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m more comfortable letting people in. I’m more comfortable asking for help. I’m more comfortable admitting that, though I’m in a position of leadership, I don’t always have all the answers. Why? Because by letting people in, a foundation of trust is built within a team. Opening ourselves up encourages others to do the same.
Brené Brown is a researcher, professor, and author who has studied the topic of vulnerability for many years. When speaking at a TEDx conference she said, “what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.” Vulnerability allows others to see you, all of you. Especially for people in leadership positions, it humanizes us. It says, “Hey, I’m not perfect. I’m human just like you.” It gives people a way to see past the surface and empathize with us more. Yes, vulnerability can be scary and risky, but it makes us stronger not weaker. It makes us better leaders, and I think that’s worth the risk.