You are probably one of the 26 million people who have seen Brené Brown’s TedTalk “The Power of Vulnerability”. If not, I invite you to see it. Watching it changed a lot of things…
Her research basically showed that vulnerability is not a weakness, it is courage, and a form of power. Vulnerability can involve some pain and discomfort, which we too often try to avoid, but it is the only path to joy, creativity, connection and passion.
Recently, we asked ourselves: how would these principles apply to organizations? Great question! Here are some thoughts we wanted to share with you:
Vulnerability means authenticity: be who you truly are as an organization
Be proud of who you are:
Authentic organizations get rid of who they should be in order to be who they truly are. They are what they are, with their strengths and weaknesses and they are proud of it. Why should we always be trying to find what is wrong and could be improved? How about looking at what works well, being kind to ourselves and consider that we are worthy? This means believing that any of our employees or members of our ecosystem are also worthy. And from my experience, this generally turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let your organization be seen, vulnerably seen:
It is all about being open and transparent about who you are as a company. You have convictions, values, purpose. You have qualities and you have weaknesses. This is what makes you unique. Let people know about it. Express it in every single aspect of your organization, from the receptionist to the CEO, on social networks as in your management. Some people will love it, some people will not, but I am sure all will trust you because you are authentic and true. What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful!
Own your mistakes, be responsible:
Another aspect of authenticity, and a great way to practice vulnerability, is to say you are sorry. Own your mistakes. Every organization makes mistakes. Not all of them admit it. Don’t spill oil and look for a scapegoat. Immediately recognize your share of responsibility. Call your clients or partners to say you are sorry and you will fix it. I bet your relationship with them will only grow stronger.
Vulnerability means courage, agility and the ability to say “no”
Drop the armor:
First, it takes a great deal of courage to drop the armor we have built around ourselves over years to protect us from shame. But it ultimately makes us stronger. It takes courage to be imperfect, and we all are. Once you have shown your emotions and weak points, people can no longer blame you for them. They are invited first to help you (which otherwise they would never have done) and secondly to show their own vulnerability, which is the basis of mutual trust and appreciation.
Connect with others:
Accepting vulnerability and getting over your fear of shame is all about reaching out to others and building connections based on empathy. Show gratitude. Ask for help and provide help. As a company, I believe this means breaking silos internally and opening up to your entire ecosystem. Share your passion and your knowledge, be the first to trust, even where there is no guarantee.
Accept unpredictability and failure:
Similarly, dropping the armor of invulnerability will allow you to explore and create far beyond your limits. Because you accept to fail, you can risk and succeed (in new markets, business models etc.), because you accept to be disappointed, you can make wonderful discoveries (for new products, employees etc.). And because you accept to have difficult conversations and express your feelings, you can have healthy lasting relationships (with suppliers, clients, colleagues, etc). You no longer try to predict and control outcomes to avoid suffering and negative emotions; you are ready to be surprised. And you are ok if it fails, for you have your connections to support you. This provides you with a great amount of agility and confidence.
Set boundaries for what you will or won’t do:
Finally, this courage also translates in saying “No”. You can refuse some clients or work that you feel you are no able to do or do not resonate with your organization’s values or purpose. Or that would take away precious time that you could dedicate to important things, such as connecting with stakeholders. And when you do it with authenticity, everyone can respect you for that.
How far is the corporate world today?
In the corporate world, I currently see two approaches:
- One is the traditional so-called “male dominated” approach, where emotions are held tightly and vulnerability is deemed as a dangerous weakness. You must be strong at all times in a company, and whatever you are or do, it is never enough, for perfection is the ultimate goal. This cultivates fear and shame, and inhibits motivation, initiative and healthy communication.
- Another approach is trying to encourage positive emotions, such as happiness, enthusiasm and creativity. Negative emotions are to be avoided at all cost in favor of the “ever positive attitude”. Everything is great and wonderful, your company is so cool. But this cannot really work as there is no “selective numbing” in corporate life or life. If you try to cut out negative emotions, then you only get a limited portion of the positive energy and creative power you seek.
Based on Brene Brown qualitative and quantative work, I believe the future belongs to “wholehearted” organizations. Where emotions and vulnerability are fully expressed, what appears are striving employees, disruptive innovations, committed stakeholders and impressive results. The only magic here lies in everyone’s heart. And I am sure you can spark it.