A man in a suit of armor lurking in the shadows
A man in a suit of armor lurking in the shadows
#vulnerability #creativity

Being Vulnerable is Good for Business

Paul Kiernan

What’s your armor? A suit and tie? A power outfit? Quick cut-down jokes? We all have armor that we strap on to face the day, make it to the weekend, and cover up our emotions when we’ve been hurt or have failed.

When you think about the term vulnerable, you may imagine a quivering, weeping mass of a person, curled in a corner, unable to continue because they have been broken by an unkind word or a superior saying that their work was not good.

With that image in mind, of course, the idea that being vulnerable helps your business sounds insane. I mean, who wants to hold a meeting with a client where the team is weeping and wailing? No one. That’s who.

Being vulnerable means being weak, swayed by your overactive emotions, or lacking in confidence, right? Well, no, that’s wrong. Very wrong.

In this article, we’ll talk about being vulnerable, why it’s good, why it helps businesses and why CEOs and managers are better leaders when they are vulnerable.

Removing Your Armor

What’s your armor? A suit and tie? A power outfit? Quick cut-down jokes? We all have armor that we strap on to face the day, make it to the weekend, and cover up our emotions when we’ve been hurt or have failed.

We wear armor of some sort, all of us, because the workplace, the corporate world demands that we are emotionless, confident, and strong. Being vulnerable means weakness, lack of confidence and our emotions are running amuck.

But does it?

What happens if you drop the armor and allow yourself to be present in the moment and open to whatever comes your way? Yes, you could get bruised a little. Maybe emotionally, you may take a little beating. When you drop the armor, you are vulnerable, but that is a good place.

Perfection is Not the Goal

An imperfectly perfect twisted tree in a clearing in the woods

One of the things that cause us to put on the armor in the morning is the pursuit of perfection. This idea that you can be perfect and do the perfect job is causing you to hide your vulnerability behind your armor.

Perfection is false. Nothing in the world is perfect. Take the mural at the Disney Contemporary Hotel, for example. There you will see a 90-foot-high mural that contains a five-legged goat. Why? Because the design is Native American, and they believed only “God” can create something perfect. So the artist purposefully put in the “mistake” of a five-legged goat.

“Perfectionists perish. There’s nothing worse for a team than someone afraid to make a mistake,”
Graham Betchart, Sports Psychologist

When we work not to create but simply to avoid mistakes, we miss so many chances to move outside the box, the norm, and the expected and find creative solutions and new paths to explore. Pursuing perfection leads to being sheltered, safe, and never making mistakes. All things that can be accomplished by staying in one room all your life and never taking a risk.

Life without risk is food without flavor.

If you’re willing to accept that things do not always go as planned, those happy accidents are thrilling, and that trying to be perfect is the opposite of creativity, then your armor is dropping off, and you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

The Benefits of Vulnerability

No, you are not supposed to walk around with your emotions raw and exposed, carrying a family-sized box of tissues, weeping all the live long day. That is encroaching on the land of therapy.

Dropping your armor, not having a planned response at your finger’s tips, being present, and sharing your ideas no matter what others think are all examples of being vulnerable.

If you’re a boss, a CEO, maybe you’ve been raised on the notion that people in charge show no weakness. That’s one way to lead, not a great way, but one way.

But a leader who is open, present, and unafraid to say, “I don’t know” or “I was wrong,” that kind of leader is setting an example. That kind of leader is creating an environment where growth is possible, creativity is possible, and where people can rise higher by dropping their armor and being vulnerable.

When a leader says I was wrong, what happens is they become more trusted. Workers see they aren’t spinning a version of the truth; they aren’t putting on a “boss” face. They are being human, open, and vulnerable.

When you work on hiding your emotions and your lovely imperfections, this leads to distrust and disconnection. But, partaking in transparent communication, where mistakes are accepted as part of the process, where vulnerability is encouraged and practiced, builds a level of trust and hope, and this leads to better employee performance.

Vulnerability also encourages a culture of forgiveness. In this setting, mistakes are not to be feared and avoided but rather learned from so there can be progress.

Mistakes Are With Us

We will make mistakes. We are human. Be careful here. There is the thought that we can learn from our mistakes, so we make no more. That’s just not true. We do learn from our mistakes if we’re smart and

present, and aware. But, once we’ve learned, that doesn’t mean mistakes go away. We learn we move to a higher plain, but that plain will also afford us the chance to make mistakes.

You will never fully vanquish mistakes. What you can do is make room for them. Allow them into your life, and do not get rattled by them. You know they will happen, so don’t sweat it. Deal with them when they arrive.

Knowing they are always there allows you to stop trying to avoid them. Like trying to avoid the raindrops. It’s better to get an umbrella and walk in the rain rather than try to avoid the raindrops. Deal with mistakes in a logical manner, and you’ll soon learn that they are going to happen, but they don’t have to stop your forward progress or shutter your creativity.

You Still Need Boundaries

Two buildings at right angles, one brick paitned blue the other modern steel and glass reflecting blue

Would you walk through central park in New York at night wearing an ascot made of hundred dollar bills? If you said yes to this, you and I should take a walk. But, no, no, you wouldn’t do that. It would be insane, and you only need a ‘mug me’ sign around your neck to complete the image.

Being vulnerable also means that you need to create boundaries, especially at work. If you find yourself oversharing and expressing too much self-doubt at work, your co-workers will eventually lose all confidence in you. They will question your ability and doubt you.

Being vulnerable works best when you’re self-aware and when you know what’s good to share and what’s better kept for later, after work.

It’s not easy; on one hand, we’re saying be open, share, be vulnerable and human, while at the same time, we’re advocating for boundaries. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s not. You need to be aware of yourself, what position you hold and how you’ll be received.

If you have an emotional day, that’s fine; however, if your emotional day leads to an emotional month, an emotional third quarter, you may need to step back and examine your situation. You need to put some boundaries on your vulnerability.

Not a Fake it Til You Make it Situation

Never fake vulnerability to form relationships in work or in life. That is a mistake that will cause damage. If you’re unsure how to tap into your vulnerability, don’t think you can pretend til you really feel it.

True vulnerability will always be accompanied by authenticity. If you’re faking your vulnerability, you’re veering dangerously far from being authentic, and then you will be seen as untrustworthy, a liar, or a game player. That will swiftly put you on the outside. And there is little you can accomplish when you’re not trusted.

If someone is open and vulnerable with you, and you repay them with some fake story of sadness or pain, you’re disrespecting them and the process they are embarking upon. Being vulnerable isn’t easy, so give

yourself a break if you’re not ready; you will be in time. But don’t fake it just to fit in or gain some ground in the business; it’s not worth it when you get found out.

More Than Emotions

A tiny Lego person sitting and crying

For leaders in business, you’ll see that being vulnerable isn’t just about allowing your employees to be emotional; it is so much more.

When a leader is vulnerable and creates an atmosphere where being vulnerable is accepted, they can expect to see better work relationships and brainstorming sessions where people are eager to contribute without the worry of being “stupid” or “wrong.”

It also means that you are more self-aware; you understand how you come off in meetings, how you present yourself, and if your words are matching your actions.

Vulnerability opens communications, builds stronger teams, creates better relationships, and it builds communities of strength and commonality.

So, drop the armor, leave it at home, and trust that being vulnerable at work will feel odd, but it won’t kill you, and it will lead to self-discovery and better working life.