Being vulnerable is more than saying you are

better man vulnerable

Saying you are vulnerable is not the same as being vulnerable.

The four core qualities of #OpenLeadership are:

  • Be Hungry
  • Be Humble
  • Be Brave
  • Be Open

Linked to that is Chip Conley’s idea of being a “vulnerable visionary” a leader who expresses vulnerability allied with confidence, eg: “I have no idea how we will get there, but I know we will do it together.”

However, all too often, in expressing vulnerability, leaders seem to do so behind a superhero “mask” of invulnerability, so even when they express that they don’t know the answers, they are so hidden by their mask that they won’t and so don’t show what it feels like, as a human, to be in that place.

Staying behind that “mask” means a huge lost opportunity to truly connect.

Leading from vulnerability takes more than saying you are vulnerable

I was recently talking with a top business leader who talked about resilience and vulnerability multiple times, also telling stories about their leadership to illustrate his vulnerability.

The thing is, at no point did I get any impression at all that they ever actually felt in those moments, only what they said and did. The superhero “mask” was always in place.

Share how you feel

Saying you are vulnerable takes a certain degree of humility, but being vulnerable requires real open-ness and therefore another level of bravery.

You need to engage with people’s feelings to truly connect, not their thinking.

Sentio ergo sum, not cogito ergo sum.

Drop the mask

We don’t need more bulletproof leaders, no matter how much humility they show in their words and actions.

We need leaders who not only share their moments of vulnerability but also share what that feels like now (when making a vulnerable decision), or what it felt like (when they share a story from the past).

Now, as this particular conversation with a business leader was over a long and wine-enhanced meal, I greatly acknowledge this hitherto “bulletproof” human for, over the course of the meal, remaining open to my gentle but direct prodding, ultimately leading them to drop the mask at least a little.

At that point, having been brave enough to really open up a little, they then shared a real story of vulnerability. How it felt showed all over their face, in their tone of voice and in their words.

When they finished sharing, there was no need to share anything more than a nod. I hope they share that story with their people soon.

Be vulnerable, don’t just say you are.

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Also published on Medium.