What does it mean to lead with vulnerability? I am sure some of you think vulnerability is a weakness, and I am not weak; vulnerability is not for me; I have never been vulnerable; I seek out vulnerability and kill it. If that is your take on the subject, I would say you lie to yourself and others. I know I have been part of the same lie earlier in my life. Truth be told, vulnerability is a natural part of life, and some of the greatest moments in life have happened during moments of vulnerability. I know some of you still have doubts about this.
The first school dance you attended, boys on one side, girls on the other. Finally, you work up the courage to ask that special girl to dance. High school football tryouts as a freshman on a team made up of juniors and seniors, and you are thinking, am I good enough to even be here? Taking your driving test with the less than approachable driver’s education instructor, are they all weird, or was it just mine? Stepping off the bus at Charlie Company 1/50 for basic training, why is that drill sergeant staring into my soul? First airborne school jump. First day in a Ranger Battalion. First firefight. Hearing taps played after the final roll call, knowing you will never see your friend again. In the delivery room, watching your first child be born, should I look away or hold a leg? Are you feeling vulnerable yet? Can you relate to any of these? Vulnerability is the best of times, and it can be the worst of times.
What does it mean to lead with vulnerability? To me, it means showing up as your most authentic self for your people. It means owning your greatness for the benefit of others. It is human. As I have matured as a leader, I have found that the more I humanize myself in front of my reports, the better our relationship is, and the better they understand me and where I am coming from. For example, when I bring my kids into the office, they see that I am more than just a senior leader. I am a father, a husband, a person trying to get through the day just like them. Vulnerability is asking tough questions and giving honest answers. Vulnerability is setting an example for others to follow. It also has the courage to admit when you were wrong.
In the words of the late great Jimmy Valvano, “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day for the rest of our lives. Number one is to laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heckuva day. You do that seven days a week, and you’re going to have something special.”
That is vulnerability, and I challenge us all to Lead With Vulnerability.