“Vulnerability.” This word strikes fear or anger in most people. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” Sounds terrifying, especially since we work hard to build our reputations and expertise by appearing invulnerable – not exposed, not able to be attacked or harmed (and if we are, heck, we fight back!), strong, tough, impermeable, invincible! But herein lies the Vulnerability Paradox.

I have been studying the concept of vulnerability a lot during the last year. I have read a LOT of books (check out Dr. Brené Brown). I have observed a lot of leaders and managers in action – some vulnerable, some not. I have observed teams interacting with each other – some vulnerable, some not. And, I have been trying to practice being more vulnerable myself. I have to tell you – it is difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is NOT for the faint of heart, because being vulnerable is NOT about being weak or pitiful. It is about risk. It is about the risk of being exposed – truly seen – naked, as it were, to the scrutiny of others. In fact, it takes great courage and bravery to be vulnerable – the Vulnerability Paradox!

So why would vulnerability be a GOOD thing?

“Great teams do not hold back with one another, they admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” (Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) The single, most untapped competitive advantage is teamwork. And the foundation of high-performing teams in vulnerability-based trust. It looks like team members willingly apologizing to one another when they do or say something hurtful, openly admitting their mistakes and weaknesses, and really getting to know one another. These teams spend less time grand-standing or protecting their self-image and more time engaging in open, constructive, ideological conflict. They spend more time making better decisions together because they are not afraid to expose their viewpoints or dreams. They don’t take advantage of the vulnerability of others.  And they don’t fear being attacked or harmed, physically or emotionally.

Leaders: By definition, we have to go first. We have to demonstrate being vulnerable first. And we must create the culture and environment that protects and rewards vulnerability if we want to lead our teams to true greatness.

Do you have the courage and bravery it takes to be vulnerable?