This is week nine of The CEO Challenge; to read 52 books in one year. Follow along for weekly takeaways from some of the worlds most influential books.
“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” – Brené Brown
Shame researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, calls humanity to embrace true vulnerability in her book, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead“. Brown walks through what vulnerability is, why we need to embrace it, how to live it, and how organizational culture is shaped by it.
What is Vulnerability
Vulnerability is the feeling of complete nakedness, exposed to the light of day and the eyes of crowds. It is that feeling when you go to share your life’s work to a panel of investors, it is saying “I love you” to that special someone, it is writing a blog and sharing it with friends. Opposing vulnerability is shame, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (69). Vulnerability is stepping into the arena, but “vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in” (2).
Why We Need to Embrace Vulnerability
Brown, like Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, notes that we shield ourselves from being vulnerable by putting on armor built by shame. Brown identifies three types of primary armor we put on to protect ourselves from being vulnerable (117):
- Foreboding Joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness;
- Perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame;
- and Numbing, the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort or pain.
It is likely you don’t use just one of these protective devices, but a combination of all three.
Leave a comment, if you are vulnerable enough, saying which shield you use most often, and why!
How to Live Vulnerably
Living vulnerably means choosing to take off the armor of shame and embracing the human in us. We all fail and we all have different responses to failure, it is not the failure that defines us, but how we stand after falling. How do we fight shame? “The answer is shame resilience” (74).
Shame Resilience is built by boundaries and mindset changes.
Brown says, “Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disagreement” (46). Learn to set appropriate boundaries to keep you safe, but vulnerable. Be selective and careful with who you open up to, but be trusting – be willing to be the first to share.
Secondly, “resilience requires cognition, or thinking, and that’s where shame has a huge advantage” (76). To wrestle shame to the ground it takes a growth mindset and strong willpower. Acknowledging that you are capable and that you are Worthy – being made in the image of God (Gen 1:26).
Worthiness comes from knowing not why you were created, but from knowing who created you as you are.
Shaping a Vulnerable Culture
“Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring” (192).
Workplaces, teams, and families are filled with complex relational issues that likely stem from shame. As Brown identifies, shame leads to disengagement. So how do we create more engaging spaces that produce positive progress? Brown answers this by quoting Pete Shaenen:“If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams” (65).
To begin to develop vulnerable cultures we must engage with ‘Constructive Feedback’. “The problem is straightforward: Without feedback there can be no transformative change” (197).
Intentional feedback is an investment in humanity; it never goes bust and has great returns.
Brené Brown is a major influencer in shame research, she has written several other books, and has an array of online resources including a top-rated TED Talk. Follow Brown on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.