I stood before my team that day in what I knew would be a defining moment.
After a decade of phenomenal success, the market had turned, sharply and unexpectedly. The financial impact was devastating. Difficult decisions had to be made that included layoffs, expense reductions, and the plotting of a new strategy for the future. All of this would be painful, and a fearful uncertainty overshadowed everyone, including me.
As I walked to the podium, I saw in their faces the same concerns that I felt churning inside.
In that moment, I had two choices in what I would say. One choice was to be vulnerable, to let them see that I felt the same emotions and the same regret they did over the issues we faced, and to then use that connection to take us forward together.
The other choice was to act as though I had everything under control, displaying confidence that in my heart, I did not feel. Unfortunately, this was the one I chose.
The message I gave that day could best be characterized as a pep rally speech, with lots of bravado that I now know was as false to them as it was to me. I concluded by stepping off the stage and shouting, “Let’s make it happen!” After a brief moment of forced applause, they quietly left the room having gained no hope or courage from the one person who could have helped them to feel it.
Even today, I still cringe at this memory. And yet, this experience taught me one of my greatest lessons: the power of vulnerability.
Over the past few months, I’ve thought often of this moment, especially as the challenges have sometimes had me once again feeling overwhelmed, frightened, and unsure what to do. And I know I’m not alone.
Whatever your role in life - whether you are a leader in business, a new graduate starting the next chapter, or the parent of growing children - you will inevitably face moments of great uncertainty; times when you aren’t sure what to do or what the future holds. In fact, you may be facing one of these moments today.
When your fear is deepest, you will be most tempted to act as though you have it all under control and need little help from anyone else. Take it from me, this is exactly the moment when your vulnerability can be your greatest strength.
Be Who You Really Are
In the movie Thor, there is a powerful scene where Thor is facing a moment of crisis and overwhelming self-doubt. In this moment, his mother, Frigga, offers this insight:
Everyone fails at who they think they are supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they really are.
This is the key to surviving, and thriving, in the midst of a great challenge: be who you really are.
It’s easy to believe, as a leader or a parent, that you are supposed to have the answers for every situation. And when you believe this, you hesitate to ask for help, even when you know you need it. Instead, you invest all your energy in working to seem confident and assured, when inside you are terrified and filled with doubt.
Believe me, there is a better choice.
Imagine if I had begun my meeting that day by simply acknowledging that I was feeling the same fear and concern that they were. That I had been affected by the changes, just as they had. And that I recognized we would only get through the crisis by working together.
Would they have thought less of me as a leader, or more? I think you know the answer.
Five minutes of fearless vulnerability would have made me more of a leader than even the most brilliant strategy could have earned. And the same is true for you.
Find Your Greatest Strength
When you are willing to let others see that you can have the same doubts, the same fears as they do, it does not make you weak. It makes you human. Your willingness to be vulnerable creates a connection that not only enables others to help you, it makes them want to.
When you have the courage to be vulnerable, you create a powerful bond - in your family, your team, and your community – that can withstand even the greatest of threats.
Embrace your vulnerability and you will find the source of your greatest strength.