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Vulnerability may be key to successful leadership

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change” -Brene Brown

I have been reading Michael Gerber’s classic business book “The E-Myth Revisited.” His emphasis on creating effective systems speaks to my practical nature but it is his underlying message of “owning your own stuff” as you build a business that speaks to the therapist in me.

The human in me can certainly identify with how starting a business forces you to look at yourself in a new and sometimes brutal way. Honestly, I am a little sick of owning my own stuff and wish someone would step in so I could heap it on them, but that’s not how it works. I know that in order to grow I have to step into that place of accountability, and that place is usually uncomfortable and requires patience and trust, knowing that the discomfort will be worth it at some point.

As a therapist with my clients, I try to balance a sense of support, safety and trust with a direct and gentle nudge toward personal accountability; encouraging people to own how they feel, what they say, and the things they do.

But I’ve had to let go of my own failings as a leader including my lack of ability in balancing

  • a person’s needs and individuality.
  • My expectations of the job.
  • What my bosses wanted.
  • The financially sound moves for the business.

I admit I lost my way here – most of the time to the detriment of the person I was managing. My imbalance not only wore at the trust and credibility I had with my staff, it wore me down as a person. It didn’t feel right. I don’t think that I am unique in this. I think many leaders and businesses struggle to balance the wellbeing and development of their people with the bottom line of the business.

As I reflect on my leadership challenges, it becomes apparent to me that I was not cognizant of the one thing that as a therapist I should have been – mental health. My definition of mental health is broad. It isn’t just the presence of depression, anxiety or other negatively perceived symptoms, rather it represents the entire spectrum of our mental and emotional states; the way we regulate our emotions, balance our thoughts, and communicate with respect and dignity for ourselves and others.

We all fluctuate along this spectrum. It is a normal part of being human, but so often in the workplace we don’t accommodate for this in ourselves or our employees. Not only do we not accommodate, we rarely have an awareness that the ebb and flow of our own mental health and that of our employees is a factor in getting the job done and the culture of the company.

What does this mean for the modern leader? I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and something he said about showing vulnerability struck me. “You can’t let anyone know you are struggling or having a bad day- especially when you are at the top level of your organization.”

While I certainly understand where he is coming from, I think it is time to let that thinking go, our modern leaders need to set the example in creating a compassionate and resilient workplace.
In the therapy (and Oprah) world, Brene Brown has created a necessary movement around the concept of vulnerability; challenging us to put it out there. It isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. It is time to bring this into our work world.

The more leaders are able to let their people know that they, too, are human and can model that vulnerability in a constructive way, the healthier and more resilient an organization can become.

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