Contagiousness: Vulnerability and Courage

As I wade through my tri-color-highlighted, page-eared, post-it- infested copy of Daring Greatly (Brene Brown) AGAIN, I landed today on the quote “Vulnerability begets vulnerability; courage is contagious.” She cites, “There’s actually some very persuasive leadership research that supports the idea that asking for support is critical, and that vulnerability and courage are contagious.” I sure the heck hope so. I can’t hear enough about how critical it is for leaders to ask for help or support. That the “lone wolf” leadership days are over (give me a hallelujah!!) where a leader has to have all the answers and lead by themselves and dare not ever ask for help, lest he or she appear weak. Please. In my CTI Leadership training journey, we learned through an amazing yet simple experience that asking for help IS a leadership skill; that great leaders ask for help. Once again, amen.

So what of the contagiousness of vulnerability and courage? A story from Brene’s book illustrates this point wonderfully. She tells of a “managing director of a large German corporation who realized that his directive leadership style was preventing senior managers from taking initiative. The researchers explain, ‘He could have worked in private to change his behavior–but instead he stood up at an annual meeting of his top 60 managers, acknowledged his failings, admitted that he didn’t have all the an answers and asked his team for help leading the company.'” I found what happened as a result is even more fascinating: “Having studied the transformation that followed the event, the researchers report that [his] effectiveness surged, his team flourished, there were increases in initiative and innovation, and his organization went on to outperform much larger competitors.” Results are gold in so many industries and these represent some of the juiciest ones out there: leadership effectiveness, a flourishing team, increases in initiative and innovation and outperforming larger competitors! This leader made three shifts in his approach and those shifts created more than three significant impacts on the company: he acknowledged his failings (this is the aspect of vulnerability that Dr. Brown refers to as emotional exposure); admitted that he didn’t have all the answers (also emotional exposure but also speaks to another tenant of vulnerability, the discomfort of uncertainty), and asked for help (speaks to the tenant of both emotional exposure and even the tenant of risk).

   “Vulnerability begets vulnerability; courage is contagious.”

We would not be human if we did not momentarily have a visceral reaction to concepts such as vulnerability in the workplace, that is, asking ourselves “Who the heck would lead from THAT place? ” Given our predominant business cultures of today, such topics would qualify for some back room or off-line discussions best handled in HR or, in some more adventurous companies, there may in fact be “people services” departments willing to take a “sneak peek” at these post-new age, Ekhart Tolle-esque antics (goodness, is this “touchy-feely on acid?”) Or maybe, in the really radical organizations who are embracing the gifts of Mindfulness practices in the workplace, maybe people could begin the conversations around this notion that personal and professional empowerment can be derived from the courageous act of sharing some of our vulnerability. Maybe we will start to witness each other daring to cast aside old notions of “armoring up” to do the hard job of leading a large company or cause. I’m cracking up thinking about how I’m teetering on the edge of wanting to be a hard-ass for vulnerability; I’ve always loved a good oxymoron.
The good news here, which is supported in a similar way by Ariana Huffington in her book, Thrive, is that the cat is out of the box around everything from spirituality in the workplace to mindfulness to vulnerability. Each of these aspects of who we are being (in addition to and never as a substitute for doing) in the workplace offer real promises around their impacts on the bottom line, on results, on better workplaces. This is contagious, these concepts are catalytic and we have plenty of people in our places of work or within one degree of separation to them who have the courage to take us deeper into this new territory. It is fair game and it is safe to come out and play here. There are people, movements and resources available on it all, some of which I’ve already referenced here. Find your edge workers, people. We are here, we are here, we are here (thank you, Dr. Seuss and Horton Hears a Who).

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