I found the first gray hair on my head when I was a 13 year old on vacation at Disneyland.
Is that what vulnerability looks like? Is disclosing something about myself that I spend money trying to cover up enough to cross off “strive to be a vulnerable leader” from my To Do list?
Unfortunately, being a vulnerable leader is not quite as simple as sharing a personal anecdote, participating in an ice breaker to open a meeting, owning your mistakes in front of others or sharing your struggles with your supervisor and teammates. Being a vulnerable leader requires all of that, and then more.
Full disclosure: I am in the middle of reading Dare To Lead, by Brene Brown.
As I was reading, this jumped out at me, “If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave in their lives but who will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgement at those who dare greatly.”
It would be easy to stop right there. But Brown goes on to talk about finding the feedback and opinions that do matter and relying on those, while consciously working to stay “armor-free.”
Everyone knows someone who sits in the cheap seats. Instead of spending energy and time worrying about those individuals, I am going to spend more of my time on those in the arena and those who want to be there but haven’t quite found the courage to take that step yet.
I thought leading was the most challenging thing I would ever do at work. I was wrong. Evolving as a leader is a whole different beast. It requires taking the first step, getting in that messy arena and then being willing to continue doing that on repeat. And not just hoping that the people around you will come along with you, but leading in a way that makes them comfortable to do so. You never know who is going to surprise you and jump (or crawl) out of that cheap seat to join you.
I am a big fan of the show The West Wing. For me, their staff was an example of an almost utopic work environment. They worked through workplace conflict, personal tragedy, experienced all the highs and lows together. It was far from perfect but they felt like a family. Maybe it isn’t possible to have that in the real world but I am going to resist the temptation to put up armor and I am going to keep striving for that. And I’m going to keep coloring my hair.