Vulnerability Through Strength

Why do we find it so hard to be vulnerable?

Last night I joined a call to kick off a new leadership programme run by my good friend Sajna Rahman. As one of the people supporting the programme, I was asked to share my top tips for the participants.

One of the key pieces of advice I shared was the importance of being truly vulnerable. Courses like this work if you let go of the need to look good to your colleagues and let both them and the course leaders know when you are struggling, when you feel lost and when you simply want to throw your hands in the air and walk away.

Courses like this work if you let go of the need to look good to your colleagues and let both them and the course leaders know when you are struggling, when you feel lost and when you simply want to throw your hands in the air and walk away.

All of those things will happen if you truly stretch yourself, yet if others don’t know they can’t help you over the hurdle and onto the next stretch of the journey.

This advice clearly resonated with the group and many of them commented on the importance of vulnerability. One of the group shared at the end how difficult he finds it to be vulnerable. He knows it is important but, because of his family situation, he has always had to present himself as strong and in control. Admitting that this isn’t always the case is extremely difficult for him.

He’s not alone. I received a message yesterday evening from a client for whom I had delivered a webinar earlier in the afternoon. The message contained an email he had received from one of the delegates, asking him to pass on his thanks for the session.

In the email, this delegate explained, “I could certainly relate to many of the points Andy made around being a tad uncomfortable in approaching people for help. As a perennial ‘giver’ however I should look forward to others being more than willing to assist – this helped to break a mental barrier for me and I now realise that I’ve avoided making certain connections that in fact I’m now reminded are far more likely to be supportive and willing to help.”

“I now realise that I’ve avoided making certain connections that in fact I’m now reminded are far more likely to be supportive and willing to help.”

We all have people around us who would not only be willing to help but would want to be asked and would take great pleasure in being able to support us. And yet we hold ourselves back because we are worried about being vulnerable.

I discussed this later in the evening with my friend, the Executive Coach Chelsea Simpson. Chelsea told me how she often asks her clients how they feel about others when they see them share authentically and vulnerably. They tell her that they see the other person as courageous and strong.

“Why is it”, Chelsea asked me, “What we see as courage in others, we see as a weakness in ourselves?”

“Why is it”, Chelsea asked me, “What we see as courage in others, we see as a weakness in ourselves?”

I believe that there are two mindsets from which we can approach vulnerability. We can come at it from a position of weakness or of strength.

When we are vulnerable through weakness, we see our vulnerability as admitting to our shortcomings and owning up to our failure. The act of sharing vulnerably is seen as defeat. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that it makes us uncomfortable and we seek to avoid this situation for as long as possible.

Vulnerability through strength, however, is a complete different mindset. Instead of admitting defeat we see our vulnerability as a step on our path to victory. We know what we seek to achieve and believe in our ability to get there. We also know, however, where we are falling short and understand the importance of enrolling other people to support us.

Instead of admitting defeat we see our vulnerability as a step on our path to victory.

Being vulnerable through strength may mean recognising that others have knowledge or experience that will help us on our journey. It may present itself as a need to draw energy and new strength from our network to fuel the next stage of our journey. It may provide the validation of our ideas that gives us the courage to move forward.

It is possible to see vulnerability as a sign of someone who knows what they want to achieve and who is willing to seek whatever support is available to them to help them reach that goal. The top achievers have doubts, blindspots and breakdowns. What makes them great is their refusal to let those hurdles stop them and their willingness to sacrifice looking good for the greater goal.

Towards the end of last night’s call, Sajna asked the participants to share their involvement in the programme on social media if they were comfortable to do so. I jumped in and urged everyone to share, whether they are comfortable or not. Be vulnerable and let others know the journey you are on, so that they can support you, cheer you on and hold you accountable.

Sharing your journey and the obstacles on your path as a way of helping you reach your final destination involves vulnerability through strength. And with the power of your network behind you as a result, you’ll find the journey as a whole so much easier.

About the author – Andy Lopata:

Andy Lopata is an acclaimed professional relationships strategist, with global clients including Paypal, GlaxoSmithKline and Brother.

He has written four books on networking and often been quoted in the media, including The Sunday Times, The Financial Times and Inc. In fact, the FT called Andy ‘one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists’ and both Forbes.com and The Independent called him ‘a true master of networking’.

Andy holds the PSAE award – that’s the UK’s top award designed to recognise excellence in professional speaking. He is a Board Member and Director of the Fellow’s Community of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) UK and Ireland and a member of the Global Speakers Federation (GSF). He’s also a Fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI), and a Master of the Institute of Sales Management.

He started working in networking in 1999, and spent eight years as Managing Director of a UK networking organisation that had over 2,000 member companies.

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Diary Date:

Join Andy live on the 05 August when he discusses connected leadership and how professional relationships underpin executive success. For further information simply click here

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