Vulnerability and business. These seemingly contradictory terms have never been closer to each other as our working environments evolve and drift towards a more empathic future. COVID made it particularly clear but it was long before the pandemic that Daniel Goleman, a prominent American psychologist and one of the key researchers of social intelligence, wrote: “ Visionary leaders help people to see how their work fits into the big picture, lending people a clear sense not just that what they do matters, but also why”.
To find that “why”, admitting one’s vulnerability is essential. But before I look closely into why vulnerability can empower business, let’s agree on its definition. According to Oxford Dictionary, it is the fact of being weak or prone to be emotionally hurt. It means being exposed which, for many, in itself is an act of courage. Eventually, it means trust in one’s humanity – the recognition that in a situation of crisis, doubt or uncertainty, we can grow and reach even further than blind confidence would allow us.
Our culture celebrates success and tends to omit the best part of the process which is the road to getting there. That is why conscious cultivation of natural human qualities is so essential for a heart-led, successful business that, as the pandemic has shown, is as vulnerable as its building blocks. To embrace this vulnerability means to progress. Here’s why.
Vulnerability is a prerequisite for resilience
The ability to recover is key in business. We expect that our employees will learn from the crisis or defeat and apply the right solutions if a similar situation is to happen again. Yet the process of learning is not complete without vulnerability. Resilience derives from strength and that strength comes from individual, thorough understanding of weakness if we hope for transformation to follow. Let’ use a metaphor of sport to discern vulnerability’s merit. If a football team loses an important game, at the next training all the effort is put into analyzing what went wrong including mistakes made by respective players. The coach might give an angry, motivational speech at first but as soon as the emotions cool down, it’s time for analysis. To be efficient, it has to involve players opening up for constructive criticism to see their weak points, speak about them and think of solutions that will offer a higher chance of winning the next game.
The victory, the defeat
In the words of Brene Brown, one of the key figures investigating vulnerability, being vulnerable means recognizing the necessity of both – winning and losing. An employee prepared for the two options is less likely to fall into the spiral of self-blame (defeat) or self-complacency (victory). Vulnerability is a sign of reason because to put oneself out there and stay prepared for any scenario sounds like a very realistic approach.
Respect comes from honesty
Today’s leaders are expected to be vulnerable. It is synonymous with honesty and authenticity that simply allows the employees to build a stronger sense of belonging to the company as well as identify with their leader. In practice, this means speaking openly about own past mistakes or not-so-good decisions. It means being real and representative. Professional relationships based on trust and sincerity thrive in such an environment, cherishing the atmosphere of mutual respect and support.
Road to creativity and innovation
Minimizing inhibitions – including the emotional and mental ones – is vital for employees to be able to exercise their creative skills. And there’s probably nothing more scary than failure. An interesting research by The World Bank measures Fear of Failure Rate in different countries, focusing on the population between 18-64 who indicates that fear of failure would prevent them from starting a business. In comparison to 2017, the rate has grown in many regions of the world, including countries such as the United States (from 33.36% to 35.10%), the United Kingdom (from 35.85% up to 44.49%), Spain (from 39.16% to 48.21%), China (from 41.46% up to 44.65%) or Poland (from 34.35% to 45.86%). There is little doubt that creating an accepting, safe environment is significant for employees to forget their fears and focus on creating.
Finding the “why”
Eventually, vulnerability sets the path to find the reason why. Working, thinking and creating from the heart, authentically, contributes to personal self-awareness. If an employee can feel his job leads him towards better self-understanding, he already has a very good reason to stay motivated and dedicated to the company. If one third of our lives is spent at work, our professional environments should allow people to present their true selves and make this brave act of transparency and honesty appreciated.