A Sign You May Be Lacking Courage in Your Leadership
This is a guest post by Andria Bicknell. Andria is a contributing writer and editor for Aspire. She writes about recovering from the effects of perfectionism on her own blog, Type A Plans B. Andria draws her leadership experience from ministry, business, and home.
- Wes Saade, M.D.
You lack courage in your leadership when you refuse to be vulnerable. It’s true. I don’t want it to be, but it is.
Vulnerability is widely perceived as weakness. So it seems to have no place in leadership, where we prefer to be perceived as formidable, in control, and highly competent. In truth, being vulnerable requires immeasurable courage. It may feel counterintuitive. But people are actually drawn to us, when in the midst of our excellence and keeping it all together, we also reveal our mistakes and challenges.
Vulnerability means being authentic and imperfect—and most especially being seen. As both a leader and a perfectionist by nature, I am quite familiar with the classic aversions to being vulnerable. And by aversion, I mean digging in my heels, I am not going to do that! I’ve been uncomfortable trying new things because it meant opening myself up to the possibility of failure. I’ve hated making mistakes—or more accurately, I’ve hated my mistakes to be made public. I still don’t really like to ask for help much. And if I am honest, I prefer to have it all together, all the time. How’s that for being vulnerable? Well, it’s also exhausting and unrealistic.
I have come to terms with the perfectionism in my life and have made great strides in breaking its hold on me. Hard core perfectionists don’t do vulnerability. But because I am challenging myself to try new things which require vulnerability, I am reaching goals in my career as a writer that before were only dreams. I’m making plenty of mistakes along the way, but they aren’t stumbling blocks anymore. They are milestones that are making me better. In my leadership, I make it my nature now to ask for the help of others. And I’ve seen projects come together in extraordinary ways that I could have never accomplished on my own. In my spiritual life and in my relationships, I am letting my authentic self be seen. And as a result I have richer, more meaningful relationships than ever.
I won’t lie. It’s often uncomfortable and risky. But the risk of vulnerability is truly worth the reward. Pushing myself to mature in this way has significantly impacted my career, my relationships, my spirituality, and my leadership. Here are four principles in particular that have helped me to be brave.
1 – Dare to try new things.
Fear of failure will paralyze you into a state of inaction. If you have dreams and goals—for yourself, your team, or your organization—take action. All the planning in the world will accomplish nothing, if you will not step out in faith. In fact, it is certain that you will fail if you just sit still.
You will never do anything remarkable without remarkable faith. You don’t even have to believe that it’s possible. You just have to believe in yourself and in your people. Being innovative and creative requires an element of uncertainty and vulnerability. Don’t fight it. Allow it to work for you. Make it a part of your nature and your culture to take risks and try new things.
2 – Admit your own imperfections.
Naturally as leaders we prefer to appear as if we have everything under control. Deceptively, it seems like a credit to our leadership when we uphold an image of infallibility. Effectually however, we are keeping everyone at arm’s length while we operate behind a mask of perfectionism. People cannot relate with “perfect” leaders because they are inauthentic and impossible to measure up to. On the other hand, when we admit our imperfections to those we lead, we generate trust and create connection with our people.
True vulnerability does not mean you have to make yourself an open book to everyone. Much like trust and respect, vulnerability is a quality that is earned over time. And it deepens as a relationship develops. The tempered transparency of a leader engenders confidence in his people. And that begins when we become vulnerable enough to reveal our own imperfections.
3 – Ask for help.
By asking for help, we communicate that there are some things we cannot do on our own. The vulnerability this generates feels very uncomfortable, and most certainly like a weakness, not a strength. However people respect leaders who can humble themselves in difficult situations, rally a team together to help them, and recognize their people’s strengths and lean on them to find solutions.
It is a steep challenge to demonstrate this kind of leadership. It requires the ability to admit we don’t know it all and we can’t do it all on our own. Dr. Wes Saade describes this as the “I Don’t Know” principle, and it is an asset to every leader.
4 – Embrace your own humanity.
For both the perfectionist and the leader, it can be painful to face your own shortcomings. If you struggle with perfectionism, I challenge you to sincerely admit to yourself that you are imperfect. You may be the last to know. But my friend, you aren’t really living or leading to your fullest potential if you are a slave to perfectionism.
Acknowledging imperfection means embracing your own humanity. And once you truly take that in about yourself, you are free. Free from all the unreasonable expectations you heap upon yourself. Free from the debilitating criticism you repeat to yourself. You are free to be human.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…
~ Theodore Roosevelt, Paris, 1910 (excerpt from Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown)
Contributing Writer, Aspire
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