I love having my female friends over in my backyard with a glass of wine to chat about life. I appreciate it even more after not being able to gather face to face for such a lengthy time due to the pandemic.  I’m not sure how the topic of this blog emerged, but we ended up discussing vulnerability in life and work. We all admitted that vulnerability often left us feeling like we are setting ourselves up for rejection and ridicule, or for something as extreme as losing a contract or promotion.

After this intriguing conversation, I asked myself if the ability to be vulnerable is a strength for women leaders, or if it is incompatible with the image we need to project?  As a purpose driven business, more questions emerged than answers.  I don’t have a definitive conclusion, so I’ll help you discover your own thoughts. Let’s take a a “coach approach” while holding us all capable to stay curious and compassionate.

Will you join me? To begin…

What would it look like to remind ourselves that no one is right, and no one is wrong, and instead adopt a presence of exploration?

So, what is vulnerability?

I refreshed my definition by grabbing a cup of green tea and settling into Brené Brown’s excellent TED Talk on the subject.  Her talk on vulnerability reached almost 6 million people, so she appears to be the “expert” on this issue for coaches and leaders.   If you haven’t seen it, what would it look like to take 20 minutes or so to watch? Invite your family and friends, it may spark some interesting conversations! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Her idea is that allowing ourselves to be known, (flaws and all), will actually make us stronger.

To be vulnerable makes you more relatable, and it is the only way to be truly authentic. Brown said that by not trying to embrace perfection, you Emerge Stronger, more connected, and wholehearted.  She was and still is an inspiration to my coaching and leadership journey. 

 I’ve experienced that pain is often an unavoidable part of being human. When it happens it can stop you cold and derail your vision and dreams! I am no stranger to adversity, from childhood abandonment to living with a misdiagnosed condition.  I suspect I am not alone and so we must all decide how to redefine our pain.

These incidents do not define me, instead they inform me. I’ve chosen to be connected to the possibilities of joy, intimacy, closeness, gratitude and connection despite it all.  We are all worthy of being seen, heard, and understood so we can begin to derive meaning and purpose from our experiences and unique stories!    

Brené Brown writes in her book Daring Greatly, “Living wholeheartedly means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think; “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough”.

Wholehearted living is about engaging our lives from that place of worthiness. What an awesome reminder in these difficult times.  Perhaps pause and ask:

Is it possible to embrace strength and vulnerability as a woman in leadership?

What is your definition of vulnerability?

What is your definition of leadership?

Vulnerability allows us to accept ourselves as imperfect. Vulnerability acts to reduce the shame we feel after emotional exposure, uncertainty, or rejection.  According to Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Illinois, shame is a painful emotion that responds to a sense of failure to attain some ideal state.  Shame encompasses the entire self. The thought process in shame involves self-focused attention. The physical expressions of shame include the blushing face, slumped head, and averted eyes. It generates a wish to hide, to disappear, or even to die.

Basically, it makes us invisible!!

When was the last time you wanted to feel invisible? Instead, what would it feel like to own your Powerful Leadership Presence?

Brené Brown advocates that leaders should “embrace the suck” that is vulnerability and admit when they’ve made a mistake. Insecure leaders try to minimize their exposure by covering up their mistakes. Confident leaders aren’t afraid to own them.

Being vulnerable with others can feel risky and scary. However, the more you make space to practice being vulnerable, you will feel emotionally free, less stressed, and have deeper connections with others.

We are all on a learning journey and to be a coach, be coached, and to lead, requires us to risk imperfection and even rejection.  

How do you think it is possible to embrace strength and vulnerability as a woman in leadership?

This doesn’t mean we will always get what we want, or that all people will see our value.

All of us have blindspots, biases, and often fall short of our own and others expectations! What we can do is stay self- aware and keep learning…

I’ve set an intention to remain connected, authentic, and vulnerable in these uncertain times, so I can invite others into a safe and inclusive environment.       

Joy Burnford in Unmasking Vulnerability as A Female Leader states:

Vulnerability is admitting:

  • “I don’t know”
  • “I’ve made a mistake”
  • “I got that wrong”
  • “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

It’s not:

  • Bearing your soul
  • Cowering in the corner
  • A sign of weakness.

In The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown talks about “taking off our armor”. This is how strong business leaders (both male and female) demonstrate effective leadership and motivate teams.

  • What are some ways you could show vulnerability as a strength on your leadership journey? Brainstorm ideas! Ex: (Asking for feedback, hire a coach to conduct a 360, ask to meet with a potential sponsor or mentor, conduct an informational interview, ask your clients for a testimonial, simply being mindful, what else?)
  • Project yourself several years from now with a problem or opportunity you desire to solve or undertake.  Imagine you have found a solution to this opportunity by practicing being vulnerable.  Can you describe how that felt? What did you do differently to meet your desired vision and goal? I would love to hear from you!

My intention will be to consider vulnerability as a way to go deeper into my journey as coach and leader in all areas of my life!  Connection will be my strength, enhancing my power to make choices. This will open another path to freedom, focus and fulfilment!  

If you are curious about how vulnerability can help you on your leadership journey, or how to begin or strengthen “Your Powerful Leadership Presence”, consider joining the next cohort of my CALM Power™ (Career and Leadership Mastery Power) Coaching Group –https://thecoachingnest.ca/halifax-leadership-and-career-coaching-services/.   If you feel that I could help or support you and your team in any other way, do not hesitate to contact me here: https://thecoachingnest.ca/contact-shelley-cox/

Leave a Comment