Leadership Journey: The Power Of Vulnerability

The idea for this post was initiated, following a valuable discussion with thought leaders globally, in #leadwithgiants.

The actual post and discussion is shared here from the G+ community: https://plus.google.com/u/0/112221425329182469074/posts/2qhZczXmkEE

Firstly, (before I go into the ‘journey’) I would encourage you all to view the TEDtalk by Brene Brown on the ‘Power Of Vulnerability’.

This presentation makes for compelling viewing: Both thought-provoking and inspiring.

If you cannot view this here; please click on the web link to the TEDTalk: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Now For The Journey

I was asked to share some experiences that we are able to relate to (which are just as compelling and leveraging). I am going to focus on some elements of social and cognitive vulnerability; than military.

I will describe a typical journey, with reference to vulnerability; which we can all relate to.

In school:

Vulnerability Framework (Situations): New school | Making friends | Study comparison in class | Competition via teaching assessments | Reports | Achieving exams

Vulnerability Aspects (We need to be aware of personally): We can choose to be emotionally attached vs detachment; Encourage self-awareness; Awareness of performance triggers; Understanding personality – i.e. Extrovert vs Introvert (or even Ambivert behaviours); appreciate personal learning styles and approaches …

Mind-set Hooks (Enabling): Strengthen self-belief. Set boundaries and deadlines for achievement. Stretch personal learning experiences. Extending learning experiences and peer groups. Embracing change and letting go of resilience; as a way to free expression, opinion and speech. Disassociate ourselves from the feeling of being competitive or in competition with others. Achieving by personal merit and competence; than to achieve by competing.

Being ‘different’:

Vulnerability Framework (Situations):  Making friends |Networking | Changing home | Living with neighbours | Being part of a community | Working in teams | Expressing views in team meetings | Working globally | Woman in work or business

Vulnerability Aspects (We need to be aware of personally):  We can choose to be emotionally attached vs detachment. Encourage self-awareness. Awareness of performance triggers. Understanding personality – i.e. Extrovert vs Introvert (or even Ambivert behaviours). Awareness of cultures and embracing differences for complementary action.

Mind-set Hooks (Enabling): Acknowledge and identify differences. Embrace ‘difference’ (or diversity) as a strength of perspective, viewpoint and input. Value ourselves and the additional qualities of experience, views and insights we are able to share; to help support collective action and momentum; towards connected goals and outputs.

Leading careers as an expert or leader:

Vulnerability Framework (Situations):  Networking |Embracing technology and global discussions on Social Media | Leading in uncertainty | Making decisions on career and sector | Leading as an expert | Leading strategy, business and service| Leading change

Vulnerability Aspects (We need to be aware of personally): We can choose to be emotionally attached vs detachment. Encourage self-awareness. Awareness of personal performance triggers; Understand personality – i.e. Extrovert vs Introvert (or even Ambivert behaviours); Awareness of work cultures and embracing team differences; for complementary action. Accept personal responsibility for leading change (if your role demands this) and that you are not necessarily going to ‘be liked by all’ for implementing transformational change.

Mind-set Hooks (Enabling): Acknowledge and identify differences. Embrace ‘difference’ (or diversity) as a strength of perspective, viewpoint and input. Value ourselves and the additional qualities of experience, views and insights we are able to share to help support collective action and momentum towards goals and outputs. We are an expert, in our field of work, with many others who are also able to support and extend your knowledge, ability and expertise. We can’t possibly know everything or understand everyone. Everyone feels vulnerable at one stage or stages of life – which may resonate with you or at different times. Appreciate this as a natural and positive reaction to being safe; but it should not be relied on solely, for safety in the long term (i.e. personal growth embraces constant change as continuous personal development). Lifelong learning demands this.

There are many other situations not described here as part of a typical life journey; including having a family. But I focussed on these three key aspects.


In reflection; I would like to cite a HBR article by Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty. Harvard Business Review. Jun2002, Vol. 80 Issue 6, p65-72. 8p. 2 Color Photographs titled ‘A Survival Guide for Leaders’; in which the following summations were shared:

– Let your ‘internal compass’ guide you to lead in challenging situations. This can only be done when you let go of controlling and disabling emotions; and trust your inner instinct to guide, lead and share intelligence with excellence.

– Difference and change is normal … learn to accept, adapt and embrace it … to create and transform a better you.

– Face deeper issues for longer term success … extend your learning about yourself in situations unknown to you.

– Vulnerability lends itself to ‘thwarting tactics’ – let them not misguide you to stagnation or procrastination. Have the self-belief that you are able to survive storms, change and uncertainty; and that the experience will define you. Risk aversion isn’t an option for progress, and nor is lack of momentum.

The article shares some tactics that support leadership in challenging times:

Leading in hostile environments

Minimise external threat by ‘operating in and above the fray’ i.e. Maintaining perspective in the midst of action and uncertainty. Building momentum in change and action; as ‘leadership is an improvisational art’.  Accepting that everyone is and has vulnerabilities but those that manage these through self-belief and confidence can, and will manage effectively at the end of the day.

Develop observer and participant skills; so that you are able to appreciate responses and rationale. So that you are not misguided by habits or misguided thinking from self or others. A ‘balcony perspective’ can help understand individuals as well as self (behaviours and tendencies) in the ‘bigger picture’.

‘Court the uncommitted’ i.e. Embrace differences and understand ways of coping for individuals that are feeling the pinch. Listen, engage and be pro-active; so that the journey doesn’t feel lonely and that you have individuals with similar feelings going through a similar journey. Appreciation is key to making difficult journeys and decisions possible – collectively.

Although, misguided understanding exists that comfort zone is best to maintain and fend without change; it is in change and uncomfortable situations, that comfort is achieved i.e. ultimate comfort in letting go of emotions (detachment) from personal change and self belief – liberating confidence. No matter how deep the waters are, you will manage to ride the storm. Inner balanced to actions that feels complementary, to a higher sense of being and awareness.

Acknowledge personal accountability and responsibility in managing situations; and your own ability. An acceptance of vulnerability as a way to ‘perform with adrenaline’ and shine through obstacles and challenges.

‘Cook the conflict’ but regulate your coping mechanism i.e. manage through storms is a way of building self-confidence, strength and ability. It exposes you to truths of change and transformation; but also softens the load through self reflection and listening to your inner-self – including sharing this with your networks. You manage situations well. Acknowledging this is a way of embracing vulnerability as a natural part of personal development. An example of this is in business; often working alone through your specialised area of work; but forgetting to network with other business leaders ‘disconnects you’ from the real business world and real feelings from those struggling, achieving or accepting change.

‘Place the work where it belongs’. I would say that disconnecting yourself from the situation at hand and seeing it from an external perspective is assuring and liberating. You see the bigger picture, but also the number of individuals connected with the same issue, action or output that can help or are going through the same ‘vulnerability mindset’.

‘Manage your hungers’ i.e. managing your expectations, feeling of control, and level of importance. Reprioritise actions so that you are able to deal with it with confidence. Feed your confidence with mini goals that work towards the bigger milestone. Try and ‘neutralise perceived threats’ and work through contentious issues with how you ‘manage and cope with difficult situations’. Get to the root of the problem. Usually it will be a lack of self-belief or a belief that is disabling but ‘unreal’ i.e. matters that you have given high importance to, but unrelated to the real cause or action.

‘Anchor yourself’ to a position where you can be truly congruent with your beliefs, inner happiness and peace, develop confidence from inertia to extend action and momentum. This undoubtedly requires personal time for self-reflection and evaluation. Secondly, accept networks, friendship, peers, mentors and communities as a way of sharing trusted conversations  that enable you from debilitating thoughts. Depersonalise thoughts to see the bigger picture, but bring it back for inner reflection and thinking to assess disassociation and association of feelings that enable you to be effective and productive.

A great sense of vulnerability can be felt from the power a role gives and expectations that it raises; particularly in dealing with difficultly scenarios, leading in increasing uncertainty and persistent change. We must disassociate ourselves from the ‘power trip’ to enhance and encourage our ‘collective nurture’. True power and strength is in numbers than individual input. If we manage our vulnerability, we can have better informed input into decisions and ultimately support colleagues through their own personal development journeys. In some ways, it is best to let go of our guards and lead as normal, personable individuals, than by title and power.

Rewards come from pain as well as pleasure. It is in how we regulate our own self-belief and feelings to deliver excellence through positive action.

Connection to self and actions; and connection with others, reframes our mind-set and coping mechanisms in adversity and feeling of vulnerability. Vulnerability guides you through messiness and fear of rejection and perceptions of difference.

As Brene Brown shares; gives you a sense of belonging, acceptance and connection with the imperfect self, once you have discovered the power of vulnerability.

I welcome thoughts here about the piece shared. Does this resonate with you? What aspects would you challenge and why? What aspects do you find encouraging and liberating? Does this extend your thinking of vulnerability and leading with excellence?

Lead With Giants Contribution - September 2013

Lead With Giants Contribution – September 2013

This post has been shared and selected as a contributor for The Best of Lead With Giants – September 2013. 



3 thoughts on “Leadership Journey: The Power Of Vulnerability

  1. Dear Prabhjit,
    Your post has so many powerful nuggets and thoughts it is simply amazing. In reading you each time I stop by your post I discover how much breadth and depth there is to you. You are a remarkable and outstanding leader that contributes to uplifting others.
    Being an expert researcher in the field of HR and leadership I truly appreciate how you weave in your sources and references to add and support your thoughts and assertions. You allow us to accompany you in your thought process which makes it even more compelling.
    A few quotes stood out for me but particularly this one: “trust your inner instinct to guide, lead and share intelligence with excellence.”
    AMAZING. Leadership is indeed an art and act of giving and being in outstanding relationships.
    I feel blessed to know you and to see how you contribute to uplifting others.

    • Thank you Johann for the positive thoughts and wisdom shared. This is both empowering, and liberating. I value and appreciate the leadership wisdom shared here; as a positive and valued #leadwithgiants and #worldskillsleader community member and peer.

  2. Pingback: The Best of Lead With Giants September 2013

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