In her book “Daring Greatly”, Brené Brown wrote about six myths surrounding vulnerability.
Myth #1: Vulnerability is weakness.
“I’ve asked fighter pilots and software engineers, teachers and accountants, CIA agents and CEOs, clergy and professional athletes, artists and activists, and not one person has been able to give me an example of courage without vulnerability. ” Says Brown. “The weakness myth simply crumbles under the weight of the data and people’s lived experiences of courage.”
Myth #2: I don’t do vulnerability.
Our daily lives are defined by experiences of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Pretending that we don’t do vulnerability means letting fear drive our thinking and behaviour. Choosing to own our vulnerability and do it consciously means learning how to rumble with this emotion and understand how it drives our thinking and acting.
Myth #3: I can go it alone.
Or, said in another way: “I don’t need to be vulnerable because I don’t need anyone.” Neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo dedicated his career to understanding loneliness, belonging, and connection and he makes the argument that we don’t derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather “from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.” Whether we know it or not, our brain and biology have been shaped to support interdependence over independence.
Myth #4: You can engineer the uncertainty and “discomfort out of vulnerability.
Someone suggests that we should make vulnerability easier by engineering the uncertainty and emotion right out of it, maybe through an app and/or an algorithm to predict when it’s safe to be vulnerable with someone. This is the attempt to engineer the vulnerability and uncertainty out of systems and mitigate risk. However, Brown is talking about relational vulnerability, not systemic vulnerability. “Regardless of what you do and where you work, you’re called to be brave in vulnerability even if your job is engineering the vulnerability out of systems.”
Myth #5: Trust comes before vulnerability.
Conversations about relationships always bring up the chicken-egg debate about trust and vulnerability. “We need to trust to be vulnerable, and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust.” In a research based on forty years of studying intimate relationships John Gottman was able to predict an outcome of divorce with 90 percent accuracy based on responses to a series of questions. Gottman says that trust is built in very small moments, which he calls “sliding door” moments. “In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.”
Myth #6: Vulnerability is disclosure.
Brown is not a proponent of oversharing, indiscriminate disclosure as a leadership tool, or vulnerability for vulnerability’s sake. Google’s five-year study on highly productive teams, Project Aristotle, found that feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other was for team members “far and away the most important of the five dynamics that set successful teams apart.” Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines this as “psychological safety.” Vulnerability is the building block.
Adapted from Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, Random House