Over the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to receive some lovely emails from readers. Many of them express gratitude for my honesty and vulnerability, which always surprises me because I never intend to ‘make myself vulnerable’.
I suppose words can be like a mirror, and it’s possible to see ourselves being reflected back by what we read; from an angle or view that we hadn’t really seen before.
This is the breeding ground for “the ‘aha!’ moment” that we often talk about when people realise something about themselves for the first time. For many readers of Sheep Dressed Like Wolves they had an ‘aha!’ moment when they first realised they were an introvert or highly sensitive person.
My writing comes out of my own experiences of such moments.
In reading about the experiences of other people I too have seen myself coming back out of the words; and in turn this has inspired me to share my own stories in the hope that I can do the same for someone else.
‘To be honest‘ it doesn’t feel like I’m being ‘vulnerable’ in what or how I write. It is not a conscious or calculated decision.
In the Eye of the Beholder
To some extent this kind of vulnerability is in the eye of the beholder.
When you have that ‘aha!’ moment and you see yourself reflected back in someone else’s words,you perceive that person to be sharing something vulnerable because within that particular moment you yourself are feeling vulnerable…
…because you are discovering something about yourself for the first time.
I have noticed something profound, both in how people respond to my work, and also how I respond to the work of people I read and follow.
Leadership is most effective when it authentically provides a ‘permission to struggle’.
We connect most deeply with other people over a glass of vulnerability. We follow and listen to people who validate and help us to accept our own struggles and imperfections.
For example, I published a podcast a few weeks ago about dealing with criticism and how hard it can be for introverts and HSPs to find their feet again after being criticised.
A few days later someone linked me to an interview with Seth Godin where he talked about his decision to remove the ability for people to leave comments on his blog. He also stopped reading and responding to reviews of his books on Amazon, and took himself away from engaging with potentially critical encounters on social media.
He had become so consumed and overwhelmed by the insidious niggle of the negative that he removed it for the sake of his own mental wellbeing, and ultimately for the sake of his ability to create his art.
Wow. What great leadership.
The humility to be able to say that he struggles with the power of the one negative review in among a hundred positive ones. I knew that feeling. That was me. And I immediately felt this deeper sense of connection with Seth, a man I don’t know and have never met.
But through the communication of his own vulnerability he reflected my own struggle right back at me, and gave me permission to accept that struggle, not as a weakness but as an intrinsic feature in what it means to be human.
The greatest leaders accept their vulnerability and communicate it to those who follow them. Why is it one of the most important traits a leader can have?
1. It Validates and Empowers
One of the biggest objectives a leader should have is to make the need for themselves obsolete. They lead while it’s necessary but the ultimate aim is to bring transformation, equipping and empowering things to function and evolve without them. Vulnerability serves to validate the struggles of those being led, inspire them to accept their imperfections and to act despite them.
2. It Shows Integrity and Honesty
Any leader who tells you they never feel vulnerable is lying. Either that or they are not leading effectively. It’s a part of the role. It’s a consequence of leadership, not a tool for more effective leadership. Being open about your vulnerability is the choice. In seeing vulnerability as some kind of a weakness (it is in fact the opposite) you are deceiving both yourself and those you are supposed to be ‘leading’.
3. It Makes Things Relevant and Significant
Disconnect can occur between a leader and their followers. This disconnect happens in the gap between the experienced struggles/vulnerability of the people and the perceived lack of either in the leader. In validating those struggles by openly and appropriately sharing, the message comes to life.
If it seems that the leader is merely telling people what they should do without supporting it with their own stories and actions, it becomes dry, irrelevant, and meaningless within the baron wasteland of disconnectedness.
4. It shows that anything is possible
We love to find justifications and excuses for our inaction. We look at people around us doing what we would love to do, and say to ourselves ‘I could do that if I had his money/personality/hair/family etc’. But when those people; our role models, stand before us and share their stories it quickly becomes clear that they aren’t superhuman as we suppose. They have the same fears, anxieties, flaws, hopes, dreams, desires etc as us. And that is inspiring, if not a little bit terrifying.
They’ve been to the mountain. And while they might have climbed it (or at least climbed more of it than us), they know how it feels to be down at the bottom. When they authentically empathise with that feeling it is a very powerful thing for any leader to do.
Over to You
Question: Can you think of a moment in your life when your leader or role model connected deeply with you through their vulnerability? How did you respond? (I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your answers in the comment section below.)