Written by Liz Swanson, Assistant Director, Professional Education Services

During August I have been leading a book study with some of our ICAHN Professional Education VIP subscribers. Over the course of four weeks, we are reading and discussing Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead. One of the major themes of the book is rumbling with vulnerability. Brené says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Honestly, I am not 100% sure how I feel about vulnerability. It is one of those words that can make me squeamish just to use in a sentence. I was raised in a stiff upper lip household. It was not exactly a place where anyone was gushing about their feelings or talked about being vulnerable. Sharing feelings and vulnerability is hard for me. I can laugh at myself and situations, but I don’t want to share the things that go bump in the night, and I certainly don’t want anyone to think I am weak. This week’s lesson in the book club put me on a quest to find another word I could tolerate more for vulnerability. When I looked at a list of synonyms it didn’t help much. Here was what was listed:

  • Defenseless
  • Weak
  • Helpless
  • Susceptible

Ok, now I really don’t like this word. Then I came across openness, and this is a word I can relate to! I can be open to change, open to adventure, open to ideas, and open to taking chances. I can also be open to sharing my story in a way that doesn’t make me feel vulnerable. Brené would say that I need to rumble with that squeamish feeling I get when someone says vulnerability. I am not saying she is wrong, but for now, I am going to call it openness.

Moving to Openness

Here are some leadership tips to being a more open leader.

  1. Be honest - you’re not perfect! As leaders, we all know it, we’re not perfect. So why pretend to be? The best thing we can do with our team and organizations is be real, and honest, and admit that we are not perfect.
  1. Build an honest culture and encourage vulnerability openness. The challenge to creating an honest and open culture is that not everybody is safe to be honest and vulnerable around. That’s problematic. So as leaders we need to be very careful and make sure that we’re creating a culture of openness. Fundamentally, culture is the behavior of management. Too often, people accepting change needs to happen, but believe it’s someone else that needs to behave differently to make it a reality. What you do as a manager, not what you say, is what really counts. Only your actions and leading by example will bring about a change in the way your whole organization behaves.
  1. Eliminate shame. Let’s face it, nobody is going to be honest or vulnerable if they’re worried about feeling ashamed. Eliminating shame eliminates fear and is the single greatest thing we can do to create an honest and open culture. So how do you do it? I think it all comes back to the honesty and openness of the leaders.

The Path Forward

I know these are all skills we have talked about before, but they are worth a second look. Famed comedian Amy Poehler said, “It’s very hard to have ideas. It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers, and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.”

Moving forward I promise to be more open to being vulnerable and embrace this word more. I want to be one of the magic people, and I hope you do, too. That’s the view this week from where I sit.