Vulnerability and trust are two words popping up everywhere in my life!
For this baby boomer and I suspect for many millennials, these words mean different things and elicit opposite emotional reactions.
Superstar Dr. Brene Brown (brenebrown.com) tackles vulnerability in her numerous books including my favorite “Dare to Lead.” Her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is widely acclaimed and one of the most viewed. She casts her vulnerability net wide to businesses, non-profits, the military, and everyone with whom she consults. I even heard a Sunday sermon in an Episcopal church where her name and views on vulnerability were quoted, just like scripture!
To this female baby boomer, vulnerability meant weakness. The message for many women of my generation, especially in pre-dominantly male professions, was tough! Keep your feelings and emotions in a business setting to yourself. Stick to the facts! As I said in our website commentary on self-confidence, early in my career, faking it was a survival mechanism to project self-confidence. Looking back, what may also have been sacrificed was the ability to take a risk and show the courage to be vulnerable.
I believed if you showed or expressed your vulnerability a lethal punch or cut might soon follow from a colleague or co-worker or whomever. Dr. Brown, however, dives deep and is brilliantly effective in describing the six myths of vulnerability in “Dare to Lead.” (Check them out p.23) She cites “Myth # 1: Vulnerability is weakness.”
In summary, Dr. Brown says “…Choosing to own our vulnerability and do it consciously means learning how to rumble with this emotion and understand how it drives our thinking and behavior so we can stay aligned with our values and live in our integrity.”
Dr. Brown also makes the case that “We need to trust to be vulnerable and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust.” She makes the point that trust is “layering of small moments” and grows over time. Wow! Small, layering, and slow are not concepts that fit into my go-go career years or even fit my personality. Meeting goals, objectives, winning and increasing the bottom line was always the focus for me. It was Dr. Brown, however, that first put vulnerability and trust center stage for me to re-think, reflect and re-imagine the meaning of these words.
I have always been interested in trends and the future of the workforce. Especially how leadership and management will change and the impact on women.
So, I eagerly dove into reading “The Adaptation Advantage” by Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley (heathermcgowan.com and cshipley.com)which astutely addresses the future of work. Much to my surprise was a chapter titled “Leading in Continuous Change: Modeling Vulnerability… Providing the Psychological Safety that Builds Trusting Teams.” There are those words again-vulnerability and trust. These concepts are front and center as key characteristics of leadership in the workplace of the future. Ms. McGowen and Ms. Shipley quote Dr. Brene Brown making the point that “Vulnerability and trust are not new ideas, but they take on new meaning when accelerated change enters the scene.” As they press on with their premise that adaptation is critical to the workforce of the future, vulnerability and trust by leaders, management and employees will be critical leadership traits for survival and success.
Two years ago, my life changed in an instant. My husband, friend, and partner of 42 years died. Being a widow for me was beyond difficult and I was doing poorly. I decided to get professional help. During a session, I was asked “Why do you have such difficulty showing vulnerability?” OMG, there was that word again. I was advised to seek out those folks in my life I could trust and show my vulnerability. I was advised this would help me through the grieving process.
I confess I am conflicted when I watch millennial women demonstrate vulnerability and express the expectation of trust from others, especially in the workplace. On one hand, I have great admiration for them and see this as a trait of courage and risk-taking so early in their professional careers. Then I think, “oh yea just wait until you get gut-punched and you are called too emotional and that you shared too much information.” I fear they will not be rewarded or promoted but punished.
Vulnerability and trust will just keep popping up in my life and maybe yours as well! So, let us re-think what these words mean to baby boomers and millennials and really women of all generations.