Who Likes to Be Vulnerable? Maybe You Should, For Success, in Workplace

I hate being vulnerable.  It makes me feel weak and unprotected and just about all the things I hate about myself.

But a new study says being vulnerable at work may signal strength, according to newswise.com.

Because vulnerability equals courage when you take a risk, or try something new, and that's one of the ways that leads to success.

James R. Detert, University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and workplace researcher, defines workplace courage as simply “acts, related to one’s work, that are done for a worthy cause/reason, despite perceived risks, threats or obstacles to the self.” Those risks can be economic/professional (e.g., lost job or opportunity for advancement), social (e.g., damaged reputation or relationships), psychological (e.g., shattered confidence) or physical (e.g., violence encountered from employees or customers).

You might learn, for example, that it’s seen to reflect a “great amount” of courage in your organization to “speak up to a boss about his/her inappropriate or hurtful interpersonal treatment” and that, as a result, it is reported as personally seen by your employees “never” or “only once every few years," he reports.

Detert noted that, across multiple data collections in which respondents were asked to describe a courageous act, leaders being described as courageous were exhibiting "voluntary vulnerability.”

"People called leaders courageous for voluntarily moving toward negative feedback or problems that their role allowed them to easily avoid. They called leaders courageous for asking for and accepting help, for admitting they don’t know it all, for apologizing publicly, and for showing emotions like sadness or fear," he pointed out.

(Maybe our president should listen to this.)

But anyway, as we all know, many leaders avoid these displays of vulnerability like the plague. "They think that these kinds of behaviors will make them look weak, will make people less likely to respect them, or less likely to follow them or work hard for them. From what I can tell, it’s often exactly the opposite," Detert says.

He adds that, in fact, maybe our whole notion of “strong leader” needs updating if we actually want leaders who can learn fast enough, and broadly enough, to avoid ultimate disaster, and if we want leaders to be seen as truly human, not artificially superhuman.

Detert shares a story he learned doing his research about a tough, street-smart executive who never ever showed anything less than his steel will. "But he told a story [in front of 600–800 sales representatives and managers] about an ill uncle [who] passed from cancer. … this is somebody that probably sometimes maybe tried to build up his tough guy image, but to just share something that was very personal and to not be afraid to break down and show emotion on the stage …  The reps were like, 'That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.'”

Now I'm not saying that we all have to cry on stage but take a minute to think about this.  We certainly don't have to share something this personal, but think about the impact it might have when your boss, as mine once did, invited everyone but me out to a special luncheon.  I didn't have the guts, at the time, to speak up about it. But maybe if I had, he would have respected me more.  And not done it again.


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