Excerpt from Limitless Loving Leadership (ISBN 978-1-300-65933-4, 92 pages, $12.99)
Artwork by fabulous Fruition Coalition intern, Samantha Dillon
Imagine yourself running down the street naked. Not a pretty thought? Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest you do something as extreme as that. There are more advantageous, and appropriate, means of exposing your vulnerability to others. This may include asking for help, admitting a mistake, or accepting failure.
When I was younger, I felt it was important to demonstrate my competence in order to build others’ confidence in my ability to do a good job. This shortsighted behavior resulted in all sorts of problems including important files being thrown away and oversights on reports. Pretending to know everything was not only dishonest, it prevented me from learning and developing truly supportive relationships with my supervisors. I probably also looked foolish because nobody, not even the most intelligent people in the world, really know everything. That is an unrealistic expectation and an invitation for isolation and eventual self-destruction.
Now that I am in a position of leadership, I openly admit gaps in knowledge and mistakes that I have made to my coworkers, board of directors, and colleagues. I also strive to create a safe environment for others to do the same. I see my work team as a collaborative group that shares its intellectual resources both to expand each person’s working knowledge and to complement each other’s work. Keeping an open flow of information, resources, and support helps everyone both individually and collectively.
I am sometimes tempted to share personal information about myself in professional settings in order to build stronger relationships. Exposing vulnerability in this way can sometimes backfire. It can be difficult to determine the most appropriate place to draw the line, and this varies from individual to individual. Trust your instincts and freely share stories and information about yourself to the extent that you feel comfortable and safe. Measure what you have to gain against what you have to loose and make an active choice about what to share with whom.
Our ability to expose our vulnerability is derived from our character, sincerity, sense of humor, confidence, and courage. When our core is strong, we remain unwavered when the gentle breezes of exposure roll by. In fact, these experiences nourish our souls and help us grow.
As leaders, we are expected to stand out – not because we’re perfect, but because we are willing to take risks. Be willing to try new things even when there is a possibility of messing it up. Take a leap of faith in yourself, and have a little fun. If you are consistently genuine, your team will be sure to catch you before you fall.
I am a controlling perfectionist who worries about everything that I can’t control (which is just about everything) and obsesses about everything else. I always try to take on too much and refuse to accept help from others. These characteristics cause me a great deal of stress; I direct a lot of energy toward managing and, of course, trying to control them. But I also have learned a lot about myself and become a stronger person as a result of recognizing and gaining a deeper understanding of these weaknesses. By admitting that I have weaknesses, naming them, and increasing my awareness of their effect on my life, I have opened myself up to change and growth.
My deepest and most flexible strengths are most easily revealed when I examine and engage with my vulnerabilities. Working through our weaknesses provides us with opportunities to strengthen our character, expand our abilities, and develop self-confidence. In order to effectively change our ways, we may seek information or support from our peers, mentors, or even from new individuals or organizations. This leads to new and renewed trusted relationships, an expanded network, and a system to monitor and reinforce changes that we choose for ourselves.
Our weaknesses can feel prohibitive, frustrating, and overwhelming. Choose the path of the breakthrough rather than that of the breakdown. When you become aware of a weakness wreaking havoc in your life, recognize and seek to change your thoughts and behaviors.
What are your weaknesses? Think about those aspects of your personality, skills, and knowledge base that are yearning for cultivation. Use your strengths and competencies to develop these areas, seeking help as needed. Set incremental goals to monitor and document your success.
All human beings have self-defined weaknesses. In addition to dealing with your own needs, you may sometimes feel equally distressed about the weaknesses of others. Extend patience and compassion to others who are on their journey toward self-realization. Focus on strengths, develop complementary work teams to minimize the impact on your organization’s results, and provide opportunities for ongoing learning and growth.
Allowing our weaknesses to surface may feel uncomfortable, but in this struggle we will find hope for the future, appreciation for what we have, and determination to achieve positive personal or organizational change. The arduous process of living through our weaknesses is a transformational growing pain.