It Doesn’t Have to be a Grand Gesture

When a person models vulnerability, they signal to their teammates that it’s okay to feel inadequate, to need help, and to not know the answer.

In the absence of vulnerability, though, people posture. They put pressure on themselves to appear unflappable or infallible. This pressure manifests itself in different ways: People say yes to things they can’t reliably accomplish, act like they understand what’s happening when they don’t, or keep good ideas to themselves for fear of their merit.

The presence of vulnerability gives us permission to be human, to admit mistakes or oversights, and to recognize that we all have gaps, deficits, and doubts. Because of this, it’s a key ingredient for doing better work.

But vulnerability is frequently characterized with too much grandiosity. When I ask people to tell me about a time they saw someone be vulnerable, I hear a lot of awe-inspiring stories—someone revealed something brave in the face of major scrutiny or admitted a mistake when it was unusually risky to do so. These are certainly vulnerable moments that deserve credit, but they are just some of the many ways to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability also comes in less magnificent forms that are no less meaningful. And I think it’s important to recognize this, because the more attainable vulnerability is, the more we’ll exhibit it and benefit from it.

To this end, I took a few minutes to lay out examples of vulnerability that are frequently in our reach. My hope is to clarify that vulnerability doesn’t have to look like someone bravely revealing their darkest fears. Sometimes, it’s as simple as publicly saying “I’m not sure” when everybody else might expect you to be.

This list is not comprehensive—and it never will be—but I would love to hear your additions, if you’d be open to sharing them with me. Here are a few to get us started:

  • Vulnerability is raising your hand and asking, “Can you explain that again—I am not sure I understand what you mean.” Or saying, “I’m having trouble with this concept—can you give me another example of it?”
  • Vulnerability is pulling a colleague aside and admitting you could use some help with life or work.
  • Vulnerability is owning up to a mistake you made, instead of making an excuse. It’s saying, “That is my fault, and I am sorry.”
  • Vulnerability is sharing before you’re ready.
  • Vulnerability is admitting when you’re not sure how to do something, when you don’t think you can get something done in time, or when you don’t think you are right for a project, role, or endeavor.
  • Vulnerability is asking someone to help you practice something.
  • Vulnerability is admitting something affected you emotionally.
  • Vulnerability is not coming into work because you’re sick and need rest.
  • Vulnerability is admitting you need a break when you need a break.
  • Vulnerability is telling stories about various mistakes you made in the past—the ones that humbled you—and what you learned from them.

I am encouraged by the momentum behind vulnerability in the workplace. I hope this short list gives you a few ways to bring more of it to your team.

Have a great week,
—Max

This is Max’s note—a weekly message from Lessonly’s CEO about learning, leadership, and doing Better Work. Sign up below to subscribe via email. No spam, we promise!

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