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Vulnerability & Leadership

The organizational behavior philosopher Charles Handy made reference to an exercise known as the Johari Window. The Johari exercise offers fifty-six character descriptions from which a person chooses six to best describe themselves while their peers are given the same list to choose six, helping to identify the blind spots and hopefully giving the assessee a truer picture of who they are.

Quadrant 1 is that part of us that we know about ourselves and others know as well—that’s an open person—with a healthy measure of transparency and integrity. Quadrant 2 is the stuff that other people see about us but we are unaware—this is where we have blind spots, where everyone else but us can see our faults or issues. Quadrant 3 is the part of us that we keep private from others—it’s our façade, it’s how we want others to see us. Quadrant 4 is the place where both we and others are oblivious—it’s the unknown.

But Quadrant 4 could more accurately be titled the “God-Only-Knows” quadrant. It is God who can truly reveal to us—or expose if need be—who we really are. He does it in order to bring us true freedom and advance his loving purposes for our lives. It may be a personal revelatory experience between ourselves and God or it may be in the context of a community we’re submitted to. This revelation of our true selves becomes more difficult because of the unique insular environment power can create, primarily because leaders often assume they cannot be truly transparent in their communities for fear it will expose a “leadership weakness.”

This is where self-leadership must be integrated: we have to be brave enough to take the risk of being vulnerable to allow people to speak into our lives.

In the circles I run in, I find most leaders are pretty good at being authentic. I’ve heard pastors say extremely transparent things from the pulpit. But I might add that transparency isn’t quite the same as vulnerability. Transparency may be communicating the good and bad about your life for the sake of relate-ability, but vulnerability is allowing trusted people to speak, advise or even rebuke you, to speak into your life. Some pastors use the pulpit almost as cathartic therapy, but never actually let people speak into their lives. It’s a controlled authenticity: “I have the microphone. You don’t.”

There’s an obvious spiritual principle at work here: vulnerability is simply humility expressed. Being humble is not a doormat attitude or a “nothing-more-than-a-worm” view of oneself, but rather a lack of fear about being known with an ultimate goal of a matured self-forgetfulness. 

Best-selling authors and leadership consultants John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio write tellingly:

…Past failure is essential to success. This idea has become so mainstream that those who haven’t failed are looked upon skeptically. In our surveys, 86 percent of people believe that having some personal failures is critical to one’s overall success. Openness and humility are portals to new relationships and new opportunities and ways of seeing the world. Likewise, your recognizing and engaging with the vulnerabilities of employees makes them more trusting and open. Vulnerability is the most important agent of change management.

Question of the Day: Do you have a “vulnerability-check” built into your leadership life?



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