Becoming Vulnerable

How did last week’s exercise go (picking one strength statement and focusing on it, and simply letting your mind be at rest and listen)? Hard? Easy? Fun? Uncomfortable? Challenging? Interesting? Some combination of all of the above? Well, I can tell you that I faced some hard facts.

Through daily reflection, I realized that my whole darn career has been a series of championing new ideas, businesses, and projects.  The other thing I realized is that because the innovation process feels completely natural to me (it is a strength) I am often puzzled, or hurt, when others don’t value it like I do.  My back is full of arrows shot by naysayers, people threatened by disruptive innovation, or someone who thinks that I might be implying that their baby is ugly. I have a long list of public hangings to show for it (luckily I have 9 lives!)

What are my choices?  Well, I can stop doing it.  I can stop being an innovator, an idea machine.  I can stop being creative. I can “not care.”  But, all of those things go against my Strengths DNA.  Because we are strengths-savvy, we know that to try to change who we are is a waste of time, energy, and money.

Therefore, how can I embrace my natural talent AND be more effective?  Let’s explore that together.

Looking back on what has worked well and what hasn’t, I can see a few options that would help me maximize my value proposition to the universe.

1. I need to focus on packaging the “new idea” message better so that it isn’t viewed as quite so “out of the blue” or “disconnected from reality.” I must clarify what’s in it for those most impacted. Just because it’s clear in my head doesn’t mean it’s clear to anyone else. I can partner with someone to help me do it if I can’t do it myself.

2. I can do a better job of being a political genius by fostering support from key stakeholders ahead of time.  When I was in my Master of Science program in Leadership & Business Ethics, we leveraged a book called Political Savvy (click here for more info). It showed us how to map out the political landscape by noting who would be for an idea, who would be against, and who influences whom (not just who knows whom, but who influences them).  It is a leadership tool.  I created a workshop on the topic, and used Oprah Winfrey as an example – she had a small inside circle – getting her BFF Gail rooting for you to be on Oprah’s TV show might be way more effective than meeting the producer of the show.

3. I can be prepared for the arrows (I rarely am, and then think, “Never saw THAT coming!”)  I wrote exactly that in an email to a colleague this week. It did hurt – the arrow that lands without warning hurts the most.  Expect the arrow, and then it’s not so painful.  I’ve often wondered about the tolerance of American football players who take a hit from an opposing player that would smash any of us to bits!  They bounce up like a Weeble (Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!) and head right back in for more.  Their tolerance level has increased with practice.  I don’t support attacks in the work place, by the way, because they hurt people unnecessarily and never achieve the desired outcome.  They make things worse, not better, and it demonstrates poor self-leadership.  However, they will always be there, particularly in large, politically charged organizations.  I can do what I can to prepare for them so that they don’t crush me. In addition, I can detach. I can disassociate myself from the arrow, the shooter, and my value as a person – and still remain engaged in the project at hand.

4. Finally, and this is hard for me, I can admit that the arrow hurt.  I can be vulnerable.  Vulnerability in itself can be a strength. The topic has come into my world several times this week.  In an interview about online communications, my friend Luis Suarez spoke about vulnerability and transparency (Thank you, Rogier, for sharing it with me via your new social business group!)  I saw it demonstrated when the coach of the Detroit Tigers was struggling with his emotions when we won the division this week (this 90 second video includes him being picked up by one of his players and carried into the locker room to join in the celebration, where he lasts for about 10 seconds and then tries to moonwalk his way off stage).  I had a conversation with a friend about the topic, and recommended that she watch this awesome TED talk on vulnerability by Dr. Brene Brown.  Hiding pain is easy.  Admitting it hurts is not.

Here’s to being our very best, knowing what that is (both inside and out), being  totally worthy and human  (even when it hurts).

I learned a lot from my reflecting this week!  What about you?

10 thoughts on “Becoming Vulnerable

  1. ” I can “not care.” But, all of those things go against my Strengths DNA. Because we are strengths-savvy, we know that to try to change who we are is a waste of time, energy, and money.”
    Very similar words I told myself 1 month ago.
    My choice at the moment is – to be prepared for the arrows. To accept this is a fact, part of reality, and I need to manage that somehow. To make a visibility is does not hurt? For others – yes, I can train my mind and emotions, after few months possibly I will get some progress. But I can not say ” it does not hurt” before myself.
    One more thing – possibly we need to understand there are a lot people around which does not accept innovative ideas and creates obstacles because of their personal fears and weaknesses. How to handle it and how to save baby, do not splash out together with water?
    What other innovative people did to bring their ideas to life and how their survived?
    I do not know if historical examples can help there…. but it would be interesting exercise to analyze, is’nt it?

    • Aha! Do you realize that by “telling yourself those words 1 month ago”, you were practicing good self-leadership? You were. And yes, we all need to manage it somehow.

      As for the “hurt” part – yes, it’s true – saying that something hurts to yourself is the very first step. Denying pain is a survival technique but it doesn’t work over the long haul. In short, we will have to deal with the hurt at some point, just so that we can acknowledge it and THEN move on. It think there are historical examples out there of perseverance – Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, The Wright Brothers (man can fly!) Not getting caught up in the emotional ups and downs – in short, steady forward movement – and calmness, as we discussed last week – can aid us on the journey! Easy to say, hard to do! Practice…

    • Hi Lisa!! Thanks so much for your encouragement – this stuff is hard – but man, it pays off in terms of performance, satisfaction, and engagement… It’s good to support one another on the journey, don’t you think? :-)

  2. What fantastic insights, Maureen. So glad your reflection time is bringing clarity about what you want AND actions you can take to create it. You have such awareness about ‘what is’ and an amazing spirit of personal responsibility. I hate that you experience hurt, and my wish is for you to grow from the pain in powerfully positive ways that you cannot even yet imagine.

    (Took me long enough to get over here after figuring out my password challenge! Glad to be here!)

  3. Hi Vicki! How glad I am you came by and shared your two cents – now people will see why, when I’m struggling with work, that I visit with you to look for inspiration and a new view on the universe. Growing pains is definitely part of the journey! :-) And if we can breathe, then we have everything we need in the moment, even in moments of pain.

    No worries on timing, in fact, I’d have to say that it was PERFECT TIMING. :-) Onward!

  4. Ah Maureen.. how to not care?. how to not be hurt?(over and over)…
    Like the American Express bill that sits on the kitchen counter unopened.. unopened does not change the fact that the balance exists… hurt is hurt and caring is caring – there is not such thing as shutting that off. As a person with only Building Relationships (aka Empathy) as the signature strengths… I feel hurt, vulnerability and sadness constantly. My husband calls it “second hand stress”.. the good news in this, we can feel goodness too… the key is to slow down and allow. I know, I sound soft but it is true. This lesson in life is so important… slow down and allow. As for being innovative, creative and a doer of things.. I’d say the emotion I wrestle with is envy… I LOVE that you execute and take risks. Embrace and as my mom says.. “don’t drown in mud puddles”..
    The best thing we can do for ourselves is to recognize, appreciate and for Heaven’s sake.. slow down and allow.

  5. LOVE the analogy that not opening the bill doesn’t change the balance! Indeed, with your ability to feel, you must protect yourself from the weight of the world. And at the same time, revel in the happiness…

    Envy.. ah, the green monster. We mustn’t really yearn to walk in someone else’s shoes because we don’t really know what their journey is like (on the inside). :-) But we can partner together so that the journey is more awesome for both of us, which has always been our strategy, in and outside the office! Thank you my friend. No drowning in mud puddles -I love that saying.

  6. Hi Maureen, I, finally, got a chance to re-visit your blog posts, specially, after the heads up on the use of other commenting systems and here I am, commenting along! Thank you much for accommodating your readers. Wonderful stuff!

    To your post, I think one of the things we need to also start building more and more in the workplace is that ability to build patience and resilience, along with flexibility, and plenty of constructive critical thinking where dissent sparks a healthy dialogue to move things forward, vs. drinking the kool-aid that will help you stagnate accordingly over time. And that’s precisely one of the things you have been excelling at, not so much the kool-aid, but more the engaging on constructive critical thinking / dialogue to keep advancing those ideas and although I certainly agree with you that language matters, ideas do matter more, specially, when you yourself are no longer the bottleneck, like you have demonstrated above.

    So, from my side, the piece of advise with a pinch of salt: vulnerability is the new leadership. Resilience, Patience and Flexibility are the new skills to build up over time and critical thinking at the workplace is often much more beneficial than the lovely pat on the back!

  7. Luis, what an excellent comment! I love that you’ve added some spices of patience (not easy for me), resilience (okay with that) and flexibility (also very important!)

    It is interesting that while corporations do want to be effective and successful, they will do their best to make koolaid. Why do they think Koolaid is the answer? Does it feel safe to them?

    Welcome your thoughts on that. Thanks again, Luis – love having you here because you are a totally awesome rock star!

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