Scare the world: Be exactly who you say you are and tell the truth.
Iain S. Thomas
My life changed when I read Iain’s quote on his famous blog, I Wrote This For You. My sister committed suicide when I discovered Iain’s incredibly vulnerable blog. Vulnerability is challenging because it initially scares many people. Instead of having a fluffy conversation about the weather, you are suddenly in a deep place, exposing yourself to someone more comfortable discussing the weather because our vulnerabilities expose their vulnerabilities.
I define vulnerability as discomfort. Briana West’s writings focus on the
I would like to say I had a choice regarding my first instance of workplace vulnerability, but I did not. I found out my first sister committed suicide the night before my first work trip for my first job.
As a career-focused woman, there was no way I would miss my work. Plus, I was in shock. So, I screamed, laying in the fetal position on my bed all night, and then got in a taxi to the airport at 5 AM.
I did not mention the horrific news I received the night before for SEVEN hours. I stayed quiet, learning the ropes of the Ann Arbor office and then going to lunch with my new colleagues. It was not until my boss mentioned she spent her weekend with her sister that I cried.
A month into my first job, I cried in front of all my coworkers. Just throw me into the deep end!
I found out my second sister attempted suicide three months later when I was in a black car on my way to my office near Grand Central. I only got through a half hour of work before breaking down again in front of my coworkers.
I was lucky; my coworkers took a taxi with me to my apartment, helped me pack, and my company instantly put me on a flight to my sister’s hospital.
I was exposed, deeply uncomfortable, and unable to brush anything under the rug. My sister’s suicide, in part, defined my career and defined my future management style.
You can imagine how surprised I was when a previous manager scolded me for including team management in my self-review. She claimed she was “disappointed” that I focused so much on the team’s well-being. Three-fourths of the team either left when I left the company or right after.
The price of not being vulnerable and only focusing on profits is high in companies today, especially with Gen Z making their way into the workforce.
Effective leadership paired with vulnerability enables leaders to retain their team long-term and create psychological safety within the workspace. A good leader fosters a team environment where members are themselves and still accepted at work. Not only does this help the team members, but it increases the quality of work they produce. Role modeling vulnerable leadership, in turn, creates effective leaders for open management positions thanks to their leadership development.
My first boss was a great leader and taught me the importance of vulnerable servant leadership. He defined leadership more from a mentorship perspective, encouraging a type of leadership that reflected helping groups of people also become vulnerable leaders.
From the very beginning, he shared his most vulnerable story with me, allowing me to feel safe in his presence when my sister committed suicide during my time working for him.
Democratic leadership means you are willing to sit down with your team or all levels of managers and be authentic about your work and life. Many leadership positions today need to improve on this safe leader setting to decrease high turnover rates.
So, you can imagine how even more surprised I was when I read this Business Insider article this morning. I look forward to appearing on John Hickey’s @BestofLinkedIn soon, as I am no stranger to posting vulnerable news and thoughts on LinkedIn.
Hickey’s IG creates memes from LinkedIn members’ most personal posts, making fun of their vulnerability on the professional social media network. I believe Hickey’s IG is sickening and hypocritical, which I am sure he loves to see me saying. It’s just as self-promotional as the people he claims to “hate” because of their self-promotional posts.
Do not get me wrong, not ALL personal information belongs on LinkedIn— just like not ALL personal details belong in the workplace. But watercooler conversations happen, and since COVID, they happen on LinkedIn.
Many see vulnerability as a weakness since it makes you uncomfortable, which can put you at a disadvantage. If you view vulnerability this way, then it will be your weakness. However, if you learn to harness the power of vulnerability, it will be your strength.
Here are five ways to harness that power to propel you forward as a leader:
Ignore The Negative Nancies
You will receive criticism for being vulnerable. It’s critical to pay more attention to the positive reactions than the negative. I received over 100 positive notes regarding writing about my sisters’ suicides and only two negative responses.
One of those notes was a young man just about to take his life and decided to hop on Twitter. One of my posts on suicide caught his eye, and he read about how my sisters’ suicides affected my mother. He realized he could not take his life because of what it would do to his mom. That moment is WAY more important than the two LinkedIn “businessmen ” who highly criticized me for writing about suicide.
Lead With Compassion
I lead from the heart, whether leading the youth group or my team at work. While I am analytical and a problem solver, I also feel profoundly and recognize when team members are not performing at their best. Instead of harshly criticizing them, I take them out to lunch and try to dig into what is bothering them and leading to poor work performance.
So far, I always get to the bottom of the problem, and we can work together to fix it. Caring enough to dig into the problem retains the team member and improves their work performance. When you allow your team to be vulnerable, you show that you value them as a person. When a team member knows you value them as a person, they work harder for you because they trust you have their best interests at heart.
Become Comfortable With The Uncomfortable
We’ve all heard the quote that nothing grows in your comfort zone, and I find that to be 100 percent true. My most incredible career and personal moments came when I was severely uncomfortable and shaking in my heels (sorry, I don’t wear boots!).
Believe it or not, I was comfortable in my abusive marriage. I was in an abusive relationship before I met the other half of my abusive marriage, so my ex-husband’s actions were normal to me. It was uncomfortable to think of leaving my cozy apartment, even though I spent most of the time locked in the bathroom while he banged on the door.
It was uncomfortable to imagine the rest of my life without him, even though he tore the tendons in my right arm and isolated me from everyone important in my life.
But I ultimately knew I had to face that discomfort to live a healthy, happy life. In the deepest place of my heart, I knew I deserved more. I knew I was being abused.
It took me months of planning, but in six hours on a cold December day, I packed the entire apartment into a storage unit and left him.
The next day, I had to tell my boss that I was leaving town that day due to safety reasons. I had to admit that the splint on my arm was not from an accident but that my husband injured me in a fight on Halloween night. Talk about being forced to be vulnerable.
Do you know what my boss’ reaction was? She already knew I lied about my injury and felt compassion towards me. She offered me more hours to work remotely from my parents’ house and asked if I needed cash for the road, as I had a 15-hour drive in front of me.
Vulnerability opens hearts and allows people to help you and you to help others.
My first vulnerable blog went live the day after my divorce was finalized. I felt I owed it to my 50K+ community to be honest that I was not in the happy marriage I portrayed on social media. I was, in fact, abused emotionally and physically. I still remember the exact moment I hit publish on that blog, wincing because I knew how social media worked and that there would be at least somewhat of an adverse reaction.
Guess what? To this day, I’ve only received THREE negative comments/social media responses to that blog, and they were all my “anonymous” ex-husband. And I’ve received hundreds (I am not exaggerating!) of private messages, emails, etc. from either people supporting me, offering assistance, congratulating me for leaving– or people letting me know that my blog gave them the courage they needed to leave their abusive relationship.
Males and females reached out, detailing their abusive relationships and explaining that after reading my blog, they could finally go and start their new, free lives.
Create Your Safe Space
Being vulnerable takes courage, and courage requires a lot of energy, which can sometimes leave us depleted. Creating a safe space not only helps us identify our vulnerabilities but it also helps us recover from sharing them. I realize it sounds a bit foo-foo, but in the world today, it’s critical to have a space that is just yours, whether you are married, single, or have roommates.
My safe space is in my office, ironically. I have a comfy loveseat, soft blankets, cute succulent pillows, candles, and many books. My area is where I can unwind and think about how I am feeling, what I want to share, and how I want to share it.
Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, a safe space is necessary to clear your head. You don’t have to spend forever there; you can spend 15 minutes and reap the benefits of time to yourself.
Set Your Boundaries
We must set boundaries regarding our vulnerability, especially in the workplace. As I mentioned before, I did not have a choice regarding my sisters’ suicides or even my divorce, but I still knew what I wanted and did not want to share.
For example, it took me five years to write about my sisters’ suicides. FIVE years. I was uncomfortable speaking publicly about it, and the discomfort hurt my heart too much. When you feel that strong tug and pit in your stomach, step back and realize that now might not be the right time to share that particular vulnerability.
Be The Light
Vulnerability’s goal is not for you to air out your grievances or play the victim game. When vulnerabilities are shared authentically, they have a positive impact on others. How can you be honest about the situation in your life while still telling your story in a way that will help others?
I have to heavily edit specific vulnerable posts because I realize half of what I wrote only concerns me and my grievances. I am careful to include details that will help others or stick to the point so I am not victimizing myself but empowering others.
Rebecca Campbell once wrote a story about believing we are souls in heaven before we are assigned parents on earth. While in heaven, we decide what kind of journey we want on earth. One soul claims they want to experience
Vulnerability is scary. Vulnerability can seem feminine. Yet, vulnerability has enormous power to help you in business and life, no matter who you are. The benefits of expressing vulnerability include deeper relationships, healing for others and yourself, and even the ability to save lives.
I told you my secrets. Now you tell me yours.
I dare you to be vulnerable in business and life. Try it right now! Share a vulnerable story in the comments and see how it feels. I promise it will free you.
PS- I recently appeared on Steve Spiro’s Master Connector Show to discuss vulnerability. Check it out here.
-Marji J. Sherman