Leverage on your Vulnerabilities

“Yes, this is the first time we are into entrepreneurship. We have done few workshops as of now. Each of us individually has lot of experience in training, mentoring and teaching. ”

I could see the hesitation in the prospective client’s demeanor. Was it the word ‘teaching’?!!

But I continued with the same understated honesty and sincerity that was natural to me. What started as ‘language training’ request from the company ended as 2 Workshops ‘Delegate to Lead’ and ‘Accessorize your language’ that proved that my persistent questioning resulted in them realizing that ‘the reason their employees don’t speak is not only a language problem but the leaders wanting them to speak what the want to hear!!

Portraying an image of novices by admitting what we lacked seemed suicidal and exposing our vulnerabilities.

Entrepreneurship is all about the reward for facing uncertainty and risk. Vulnerability is the state of being in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

Perfection portrayal is impasse; Vulnerability is the new salute.

What is Vulnerability? It is the practice of acknowledging mistakes, asking for help, being able to say, “I don’t know”, sharing perhaps not-so-great stories of your self, confronting and acknowledging uncertainty and to disagree and/or be the voice to an unpopular idea.

Being vulnerable in how you respond has many positive outcomes:

  • It is a more honest and accurate response
  • Encourages collaborative behavior
  • Instills transparency and accountability
  • Motivates questioning
  • Introduces open discussions
  • Promotes problem solving by brain storming ideas
  • Shows that you welcome initiatives
  • Discourages fear of saying the wrong thing.

Yet to be vulnerable also needs fine-tuning! It is not that one over shares private stories or too many failures, irrelevant anecdotes that ends as mere gossip. This then leads to disrespect.

Be wise enough to:

  • Stick to the boundaries
  • Be selective of audience
  • Share appropriately
  • Be vulnerable sparingly

Else, it may be taken advantage of and becomes a weakness instead of the strength that it actually is. It should bond you with others rather than be perceived as failures. To have overcome vulnerable situations together is the purpose of exposing your vulnerability. A whiner makes one cringe.

Many a time, vulnerability is misinterpreted as ‘trying to gain sympathy with personal sob stories, inability to chin up, or making excuses for shoddy work’ In short, a wimp. That happens if stating your vulnerabilities is not followed by efficiency.

Your ability to say, ‘I don’t know’ is perhaps the first foot forward towards vulnerability. To confront uncertainty, to disagreeing with a colleague or allowing disagreement with the boss and to support an unknown possibility or risky decision is the road towards embracing vulnerability as the path to better teams.

An oft-misunderstood concept is perhaps, vulnerability. Remember, it is not over-sharing, garnering sympathy or being falsely modest. It is about sharing relevant fears and concerns, uncertainties, request for help that a secure, self-confident leader does.

Vulnerability Can Make You a Stronger Leader

Portraying an image of bravado to showcase a false ‘am in control’ when things are not, are qualities of a coward rather than a leader. Showing the right emotions intelligently is taking the team with you so that they also feel part of the problem. This nudges them towards belongingness and gets them to be proactive to finding solutions. They feel needed and the sense of oneness is ushered.

In fact, vulnerability makes you stronger, more authentic, genuine, strengthens cohesive culture and performance by inviting voluntary solutions. When you ask for help, leaders appear more acceptable and approachable.

Unlike popular belief that it is a weakness, to be open about your vulnerability actually requires a lot of courage. Courage is associated with strength and overcoming evil. Then, does it not take a lot of courage to admit that you are wrong, that you need help and be willing to share embarrassing stories? To be honest and to be truthful is courageous. Thus vulnerability twins with courage. It is a strength.

I think it’s too cool and many don’t have the guts to be so!

During these exceptional lockdown times, perhaps truth has been acknowledged even more. Gratitude and respect for the way women have been silently mastering it all has been visible to the world, how much ever one wants to brush it under the carpet. It is fine to see crying children in the background of virtual meetings, not being stylishly dressed, not having the prettiest of homes. Showing how tired, how afraid and how sensitive you are is acceptable finally. Did we need a pandemic to realize it?

A Woman’s life is synonymous with vulnerabilities

After the usual path of education, job, marriage-motherhood, breaks in job and getting back in on flexible time options and finally into full time job in my 40s, I found myself at crossroads once again when the B-School I was working in shut down. As any average woman, I have had my share of vulnerabilities as a given. I had an extra dose being married to a Defence Officer and accompanying him every time he was transferred. I used to joke that I work in between breaks!!

When the B-School closed, I decided to start my entrepreneurial journey. Hence I can safely say that it was solely on the premise of vulnerability!!

Here I would like to take you back to share an experience at a multinational bank that I worked in after my ‘motherhood break’. I reported to and worked with people who were all at least 10-15 years younger to me, fresh from their fancy MBA degrees. I did not know Excel. I was very slow on the computer as it is. And then came the day when it was the responsibility of a young team member to ‘mentor’ me in a kind tone to be sharper and quicker in my work.

I feared that I would be asked to leave if my performance did not improve. I was aghast with shame and felt let down by myself. I was totally shaken and felt redundant. I related to him the circumstances by which I was working here on part time basis, my responsibilities towards family being the only reason to have let go of the top-notch position I was in and how I had willingly gone headlong to plunge my career.

I explained to this young bachelor how the working mother is all on her own to resurrect her career and the default blame taker for anything that goes wrong at home or with family that consists of children’s health, studies, extracurricular activities, and the well being of parents/parents-in-laws in-living or otherwise. Bottom line, every woman is struggling and fighting innumerable battles every minute of her life, yet putting on a composed and brave front.

He was totally taken aback and his respect for me grew. He promised to sit with me and help me pick up my pace. Another team member started to teach me Excel whenever she was free. They were all full time employees with a lot of workload, while I was a consultant on a flexi-time option. Yet the entire team would focus on helping me improve and I started exceeding my targets! It was a win every team member felt jointly with me. I realized then that there was no shame in being humble, honest to admit your inadequacies and ask for help.

It is of course in how you say it. With utmost self-respect and dignity, no pleading for self pity here. The purpose of sharing is to show that you are willing to learn and not to make excuses or shirk.

Credibility + Vulnerability = A Brilliant and Effective Image

Practicing vulnerability borders on enhancing emotional well being and encourages empathy. It creates innovative work culture, increases productivity and emphasizes self-care and group cohesiveness. It is truly inspirational.

To practice vulnerability at work, ask yourself:

What are the bottlenecks that I need to cross?

What are the biases and mindsets that I have to overcome?

What are my risks?

How do I manage them effectively?

Am I being honest and truthful?

Can I share this with my team?

By practicing a demeanor that is honest, open and relatable, you become approachable. You walk the walk, not just walk the talk.

“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” – Haruki Murakami

Take this simple quiz to see if you have understood what Vulnerability means:

  1. Vulnerability means:

a) Uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure

b) Weakness

c) Attention seeking

d) Foolishness

  1. Being vulnerable to someone means

a) Showing someone in how much pain you are in to seek sympathy

b) Making up false stories to grab attention

c) Telling private information to test relationship

d) To expose your inner self and be brave

  1. True or false

Vulnerability does not depend on the relationship you have with other person.

  1. Vulnerability requires ___________ from the listener.

a) Empathy and Sympathy

b) Time and Effort

c) Kindness and Loyalty

d) Genuineness and Reciprocation

  1. Vulnerability helps you…

a) Connect with others

b) Detach from others

c) Feel bad about yourself

d) None of the above

Right Answers:

  1. a) Uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.

  1. d) To expose your inner self and be brave
  2. FALSE.

Vulnerability is based on mutuality. It requires boundaries and trust.

  1. d) Genuineness and Reciprocation

Mutually respectful vulnerability leads to increased connection, trust and

engagement. Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust

and disengagement.

  1.  a) Connect with others

Finally, to conclude: How does one learn to be vulnerable?

  • Focus on mastering what you do, rather than perfecting it.
  • Learn to take a stance, practice courage
  • Self introspect to know your weaknesses
  • Be aware of who you are and be yourself
  • Be compassionate and caring to yourself, next extend to others.
  • Be empathetic towards all
  • Spend some time and be clear on what you share
  • Enhance your tolerance levels, be patient with your team

Women entrepreneurs can supplement resilience and perseverance by the trait of vulnerability. Embracing the right usage of vulnerability has its rewards: lessons learnt from failures or great successes; that’s the story of women entrepreneurs.

Power to you all!!

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