Vulnerability in Business

As my wife and I were eating ice cream a few nights ago we were talking about a shared mentor.

He is our former youth pastor and founder of the non-profit where I worked, Coreluv International.  The organization is in their fundraising month and had a successful weekend.  My wife and I discussed how the founder is an amazing speaker and is truly inspirational.  Then she remarked that I have a shared quality in speaking and writing regarding inspiration.

We continued to talk and I realized the reason I can motivate is that when I speak and write, it is from a place of vulnerability and my audience is me.  Let me explain, I know that many people go through similar fears, questions, and doubts as I do - we are all alike in essence.  Our genetic code among each other is near identical and the people around me have gone through many struggles.  Therefore, when I write, it is from a place of vulnerability as I am sharing failures, challenges, and rare accomplishments.  We all go through these experiences, yet I have noticed a disturbing trend in many businesses: there is a clear lack of vulnerability in some companies and with many employees.

Companies put on a facade of invincibility when we know that is not true (Apple stock anyone?) while many employees have a presence of unassailability, unwillingness to admit mistakes, and a general arrogance of knowing how to do everything.

Has this always been the case?  

I am still relatively young, yet have been earning paychecks for 15 years from my first job scooping custard as a teenager to more advanced roles as a consultant.  There seems to be a growing hardness in the workforce; vulnerability is lost and a new culture of “experts” is emerging as people try to cling to positions in an unstable economy.  My favorites are individuals that worked in an industry a decade ago for a year or summer internship then moved to another career, yet they are somehow thought-leaders in a field they have not revisited since that internship in the early 2000’s.

A problem with hiding vulnerability is that it goes against human nature.  

(Warning: my inner anthropology nerd is about to emerge)  We have been designed to be vulnerable.  Early Homo sapiens were vulnerable to predators and the environment; our ancestors survived by relying on each other in groups to form strong bonds by covering each other's weaknesses. Current humans are just as vulnerable with inequality, a shrinking middle class, environmental issues, among other forces.  Without strong relationships we have to mask our vulnerabilities which causes instinctual survival instead of group collaboration.

We are inherently vulnerable and should allow this feature to come out in our work because we are at our most human when we ask others for help, admit we do not know an answer, or simply fail on a project.  This vulnerability allows for others to teach us, a desire to learn more, and eventual innovation.  Some of our best ideas are born when we are the most vulnerable.  

Think about when you were in a slump, failed multiple times, or generally were lost at work.  Those are likely the times you grew the most with assistance from others or your dedication to become better.

If we want the economy to rise, enjoy work more, accelerate our professional lives, and create something great then we must become comfortable with vulnerability.

Going back to the conversation with my wife, this article was for me and those around me.  We are going through comparable issues and instead of pushing back with force we should accept our limitations and learn in order to grow and build up those around us.

If you are interested in learning more about vulnerability and how it can lead to success, then watch Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerabilty” 

Oh and by the way she is a fellow Coog!