list of names on paper

Does Your Vulnerability Drown You or Lift You?

Category: Musing

If you keep up with trends on leadership, you have no doubt noticed that vulnerability gets a lot of attention, and for good reason.

Vulnerable leaders tend to have greater self-awareness, and they find that it’s easier to build new relationships and strengthen the ones they have. Great relationships, of course, are the glue that binds a healthy team culture, but I recently looked at vulnerability in a new light, thanks to Brené Brown.

Brown recommends an exercise where you draw a one-inch by one-inch square on a piece of paper, and then inside the box, you write the names of the people whose opinions matter most to you. If for any reason, you need more room, it’s time to cull some names because the people whose names are in the box fill very specific criteria.

This resonates with me as I think about how much power I sometimes give to other people’s opinions of me and how much energy I leak when I worry about how I’m seen. Like most things, vulnerability is great in moderation. Too much, and you reach that tipping point where you’ve given away or leaked more power than what’s healthy.

I’m reminded of one of Brown’s quotes on this topic: “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” Are the people in the square you can be messy with? Imperfect? Truthful? Unfiltered? Will they tell you the truth because they love and respect you but also accept you for exactly who you are?

With belonging in mind, I think it’s equally important to look at the names in the square, hold up a mirror, and ask myself, “How am I showing up for these very special people who I trust to help me make big life and work decisions, who I can be vulnerable with, and whose wisdom and presence I trust?”

Give this “Square Squad” exercise a try. Remember that seeking validation is human, but when it drowns us, we risk losing our connection with ourselves and others. Give yourself the gift of lift. Manage your vulnerability so you can make room for trustworthy relationships and being true to yourself.

A note on vulnerability: Sharing our own struggles and challenges with others can make it safe for others to do so as well. We’re expected to be so buttoned-up as leaders, but if people see us as never having any struggles or unwilling to share those struggles, we become someone that’s hard to relate to. If you’re not open to putting your guard down, it’s hard to win the hearts and minds of your colleagues and employees. This lack of “connection imitative” also has a direct impact on employees’ sense of engagement or worse, loneliness. Read my blog on this topic to learn more. 

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