It’s not healthy or productive, for instance, to try to be everything to everyone – letting in every piece of input or criticism you receive, and believing it – and allowing it to pierce your heart. In other words, “You don’t have to catch every ball that is thrown at you.” Nor should you, if you want to be healthy and well-balanced.
But when we have healthy boundaries, we’re able to experience a greater degree of true connection with others, taking in what is needed and helpful but not being flooded by others’ input. Healthy boundaries also allow you to avoid “perfectionistic over-functioning” as a leader, manager or individual contributor (or family member) – always doing more than is healthy, appropriate and necessary and trying to get an A+ in all of it.
Unhealthy boundaries are dangerous. I see this as a common problem in leadership today. Managers and leaders, for instance, often feel insecure and unsure of themselves, and because of that insecurity, they feel afraid to be vulnerable and ask for needed help or constructive feedback that would be useful — about how their behaviour, mindset, communication and actions are potentially negatively impacting those around them.
If you are too afraid or insecure to be challenged, outside help is needed to support you to feel less fearful to seek and evaluate feedback. To thrive as a leader, you must invite healthy challenge and be open-minded and confident enough to fully consider ideas and opinions that are very different from your own.
What happens if you refuse to allow more vulnerability into your work or leadership?
Without vulnerability, serious challenges emerge, including: The work culture can become unsafe and threatening, especially for those who are in underrepresented, non-dominant groups. An honest and open feedback loop that is essential for positive work cultures will be stifled, and essential feedback will not be shared.
Damaging, toxic personalities, behaviours and language will be allowed to continue to negatively impact your workforce, wreaking havoc on employees’ lives and work.
High potential employees will leave your employment (and your organisation’s engagement and retention will suffer) because talented, healthy and highly functional people are in high demand today and they simply don’t need to remain in sick, broken cultures that lack respect, openness, transparency and honesty. Why would they stay? (Interestingly, there often is a strong similarity between the dysfunction of the workplaces you’ve been attracted to and the dysfunction you experienced in your family growing up.)
Your own leadership growth will be stifled because you’re not open to learning how you need to improve and develop. And that lack of growth and self-awareness sends a clear message to others around you that they shouldn’t be investing their energy in learning and growing either.
Finally, without allowing vulnerability to expand, leaders and managers will experience what my research has found are seven most damaging power gaps that negatively impact 98 per cent of professional women and 90 per cent of men today. These power gaps block your ability to reach your highest, most rewarding goals and visions and make the impact you long to.
What is the relationship between vulnerability and psychological safety in our workforces and teams?
As Timothy R. Clark, founder and CEO of Leader Factor shared with me in interviews in my blog and podcast, psychological safety is a condition in which human beings feel: included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, safe to challenge the status quo …all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalised or punished in some way.
Timothy shared: “As a leadership attribute, resilience is an overall measure of your adaptive capacity as an individual. It includes several qualities such as stamina, perseverance, tenacity, grit, tolerance for ambiguity, confidence and optimism.
Roll all of these together and you get resilience. At its core, resilience is the ability to adapt to challenges and recover quickly from failure, adversity, and tribulation.”
In my work with leaders, I’ve seen that we will severely limit our resilience if we’re not open to being vulnerable.
What does vulnerability in leadership actually look like in action?
Vulnerability in leadership opens the door for what I call the Seven Brave Pathways to Career and Leadership Success. Just a few of those seven brave pathways are:
Vulnerability allows you to trust in and leverage more fully your keen talents and abilities and stretch into new areas where your talents are needed. But it will also help you recognize help you may need and areas in which you need development. Vulnerability teaches you that while you are indeed gifted and talented, you cannot be everything to everyone and shouldn’t be trying to have “all the answers” on your own.
You’ll expand your leadership communication by saying what needs to be said, and by not shying away from straight-talking, open and honest communication that is essential for organizations to flourish.
Vulnerability allows you to recognize when something needs to shift, either in yourself, your employees, your leadership or in your organization’s processes, and you’ll muster the courage to facilitate that important change, no matter how hard it is to do that.
What are top tips for leaders who wish to expand vulnerability in their day-to-day roles
I’d suggest taking the time now to recognise if you are experiencing any of the 7 damaging power gaps that keep leaders from making the positive impact they long to. Here’s a quick survey to help you assess which gaps you may be facing. Addressing and closing these gaps requires a new kind of vulnerability that will open doors for positive change.
Recognizing the gaps, you’re dealing with personally and also helping your teams recognize their collective power gaps, will allow you both to expand your strength, productivity and positive impact. And this “power gap-closing” process paves the way for more personal integrity, honesty, accountability, and commitment to creating a healthier system and culture.
Finally, engaging in a Power Gap-closing process will ensure that you’ll see more clearly how your behaviours and communication approach are impacting others and your work culture, and what you need to do to that revise any negative behaviours.
In the end, closing all seven of the power gaps will give you a clearer pathway to expanding your vulnerability and your strength so you reach a higher level of self-actualization, and become the most positive, resilient and courageous leader you can and want to be.
- A Tell / Kathy Caprino’s Career & Leadership Breakthrough coaching programme report.