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Leadership and Vulnerability

What does it mean to be vulnerable, and why is it something that we would ever want to lean into? Life, as it is, has plenty of risk, you might say. We take risks every day when we step outside. We are taking a risk when we drive our car and we are taking a risk when meeting someone new. It is easy, and in our nature to fear. That is why the negativity bias exists. We remember things that had a negative outcome on our lives, in some way, because historically, it was helpful to remember those things, back when we were hunters and gatherers. Fear and pain can both help to keep us safe. If we remember that the wolves can be dangerous, then we can remember to stay away. This fear becomes somatically engaged in our bodies so that we are able to act fast. What tends to happen is that irrational fears come up and we have that same fight, flight, freeze, and/or fawn response, even when we know the fear poses no actual threat.

When we become so risk adverse that our lives become lonely or we lost our sense of purpose, the walls that once kept us safe, might start to feel like a prison. It might feel counter intuitive, but the key to life is leaning in, taking a step forward, and moving toward your truth.

I wanted to bring up the theme of vulnerability and leadership to help encourage and inspire others. What I continue to realize on my own path, is that in order to grow (or to achieve what IFS calls, "Self Leadership") we must be vulnerable, and it is not the most comfortable or easy path.

With all of that being said, I am reminded of something I often tell my clients: "You get to choose." And choosing vulnerability does not have to be grand acts. Vulnerability can look like telling someone how you feel, when part of you wanted to stay silent. Vulnerability could look like calling a friend or looking up therapists near by. It could also involve taking responsibility for something that you did or said that doesn't align with your values. Or maybe you sign up for a class you've been interested in.

To help give color to this idea of vulnerability, shame researcher, Brene Brown shares the below passage in her book, Daring Greatly. She reminds us that a life worth living (to use Marsha Linehans language), involves vulnerability. In order to succeed at something, we must start somewhere. I hope you find the following passage meaningful and as inspirational as I find it to be.

The Man at the Arena

“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 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

—Theodore Roosevelt Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

I also would like to share this lovely list I found online.

17 Hard Things Great Leaders Have to Do by Hillary Leonard

1. You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.

2. You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.

3. You have to give more than you get in return right away.

4. You have to care more about others than they care about you.

5. You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.

6. You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.

7. You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is.

8. You have to grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.

9. You have to deliver results when making excuses is an option.

10. You have to search for your own explanations even when you’re told to accept the “facts.”

11. You have to make mistakes and look like an idiot.

12. You have to try and fail and try again.

13. You have to run faster even though you’re out of breath.

14. You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you.

15. You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.

16. You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.

17. You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you

And one more that was shared during my Level I IFS graduate ceremony.

How I Became a Warrior

Once, I ran from fear so fear controlled me. Until I learned to hold fear like a newborn. Listen to it, but not give in. Honour it, but not worship it. Fear could not stop me anymore. I walked with courage into the storm. I still have fear, but it does not have me.

Once, I was ashamed of who I was. I invited shame into my heart. I let it burn. It told me, “I am only trying to protect your vulnerability”. I thanked shame dearly, and stepped into life anyway, unashamed, with shame as a lover.

Once, I had great sadness buried deep inside. I invited it to come out and play. I wept oceans. My tear ducts ran dry. And I found joy right there. Right at the core of my sorrow. It was heartbreak that taught me how to love.

Once, I had anxiety. A mind that wouldn’t stop. Thoughts that wouldn’t be silent. So I stopped trying to silence them. And I dropped out of the mind, and into the Earth. Into the mud. Where I was held strong like a tree, unshakeable, safe.

Once, anger burned in the depths. I called anger into the light of myself. I felt its shocking power. I let my heart pound and my blood boil. Listened to it, finally. And it screamed, “Respect yourself fiercely now!”. “Speak your truth with passion!”. “Say no when you mean no!”. “Walk your path with courage!”. “Let no one speak for you!” Anger became an honest friend. A truthful guide. A beautiful wild child.

Once, loneliness cut deep. I tried to distract and numb myself. Ran to people and places and things. Even pretended I was “happy”. But soon I could not run anymore. And I tumbled into the heart of loneliness. And I died and was reborn into an exquisite solitude and stillness. That connected me to all things. So I was not lonely, but alone with All Life. My heart One with all other hearts.

Once, I ran from difficult feelings. Now, they are my advisors, confidants, friends, and they all have a home in me, and they all belong and have dignity. I am sensitive, soft, fragile, my arms wrapped around all my inner children. And in my sensitivity, power. In my fragility, an unshakeable Presence.

In the depths of my wounds, in what I had named “darkness”, I found a blazing Light that guides me now in battle.

I became a warrior when I turned towards myself.

And started listening.



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