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Lessons In Leadership: Four myths dispelled

In part 2 of this article, Brett Davidson looks at how taking what we think are vulnerabilities and using them to build our capabilities can enhance our businesses

In part 1 of this article on leadership I looked at vulnerability, and how important it is as for a business owner to embrace it in order to lead more effectively. This week I look at four common myths of vulnerability, and how you can combat them. (If you missed part 1 you can read it here.)

David Williams (himself a successful entrepreneur) explored these issues in his article The Best Leaders Are Vulnerable, referencing Brené Brown’s work. I’ve adapted some of these for you in this article.

Myth 1: Vulnerability is weakness

Brené Brown’s research asked thousands of people to specify times they felt vulnerable. They gave examples like; ‘the first date after my divorce’, ‘starting my own business’, or ‘owning something I did wrong at work’.

These situations have nothing to do with weakness. In fact the opposite is true; being vulnerable in these situations is the definition of courage.

How does this apply to you and your business? As Williams says:

“Every entrepreneurial endeavour, by its very definition, is courageous and risky.”

Regardless of how you might feel on a day-to-day basis, what you are doing in running your business is an act of courage. It’s all good. The big question is: How can we do it better? Embracing the uncertainty or accepting the feelings that can come up, and doing your best to move forward with your team is all that’s required.

“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” Brené Brown

Myth 2: You can opt out of vulnerability

As a business owner, vulnerability just comes with the territory. Williams says, “It isn’t a choice but a consequence.”

When we try to opt out by pretending to have all the answers, or bluffing and blustering our way through (which I know I’ve done many times), we appear inauthentic and create more stress in our lives. We can be more effective by acknowledging vulnerability both with ourselves, and those that we lead.

The truth is we don’t fool anyone when we try to fake it. The simplest way to deal with not knowing is to just say, “I don’t know.” You do this as financial planners with your clients periodically. Why not do the same with your team?

Myth 3: Vulnerability means letting it all hang out

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean spilling your guts to a stranger on the train about your fears. People need to earn the right to hear sensitive news.

Particularly sensitive information might be shared only with your spouse, or your business partner. Maybe there are team members within your business that have your trust for certain types of information. You need to be discerning to some degree in deciding what information is appropriate to share in various circumstances.

Williams says: “Live tweeting about personal details to the point of bad taste is not ‘vulnerability’. Nor is it an act of courage. Purposeful vulnerability without boundaries is attention-seeking behavior that actually appears to others as desperate.”

Over-sharing is not the same as being vulnerable; so don’t go broadcasting everything on social media. Decide whom it is appropriate to share your vulnerability with.

Myth 4: I can go it alone

This is one of the greatest myths of entrepreneurialism, the myth of the rugged individualist. Let’s be honest, no one achieves anything on their own.

The simple act of asking others – “Can you help me with this? What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you willing to work on this together with me?” – expresses our vulnerabilities in an appropriate way.

Team building is about getting the right people on the bus, and then being able to work together to solve the challenges that will inevitably arise. I’ve written extensively about how important it is to assemble the right team.

In fact I’d go so far as to say that having the wrong people on the team is probably the biggest hindrance to moving ahead for most financial planning firms I know. There’s no point being vulnerable or asking these questions to the wrong team; you’ll only be disappointed, so ensure you have a strong team supporting you.

Williams finishes his piece with this humbling and energising challenge:

“Vulnerability is a frightening thing for many of us. But knowing that vulnerability is a universal condition, and that recognising and owning our vulnerability is a form of true courage is important. Here’s a thought that’s even more frightening: What would it be like to reach the end of your life and to wonder what would have happened if you’d truly shown up, ready to give your all and, if necessary, sacrifice all. What if?”

I don’t know about you, but that question scares and excites me in just about the right proportions. A little bit of fear suggests a challenge. The excitement suggests a genuine desire to give it a go, and hang the consequences.

What if, indeed.

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