Leading, vulnerability and courage

(~3 minute read.)


“I struggle to be vulnerable and I struggle sitting in heavy emotion.
I tend to use humour as a way to get out of it.”

I learned the hard way what happens when you try to ‘hide’ from your people. It’s not that I wasn’t visible, they saw me all the time, but I was hiding. I thought I was doing the right thing but really, I was scared to tell them what was really going on. I had some tough stuff to deal with outside of work, some really tough stuff. I thought if I shared it with them, I’d also have to share how I was struggling with it, and I didn’t want to do that. Why? Because I would look weak, like I wasn’t handling things. And that is not me. I’m strong, I can handle anything! And I was handling it, just fine I thought, just as well as I always do. Right? Wrong. Dead wrong.

What I didn’t realise was, while I was ‘doing my job,’ I was doing it differently. The amount of time I spent on the phone, the times of the day I sent emails, the language I used in my emails was different. Not overtly, but subtly. Enough for my people who I was close to, to notice. And once they started noticing, they started talking. In their pursuit of understanding they created their own narrative around what was going on, why I was behaving differently. They thought it was something they had done, or maybe I was leaving the company? And because I was so busy hiding, I didn’t notice.

Until one day, one of my people had the courage to ask me about it. She asked me if everything was OK? “Of course it is, everything is fine!,” I said. I wasn’t going to blow my cover, not now when I thought I’d done such a great job at hiding. But she knew I was lying. Was it the upward tone at the end of my statement, who knows? But she knew it wasn’t the truth. And it wasn’t. And so she didn’t give up. She asked me again, this time with more force. I looked at her and knew my cover was blown. It was time to fess up.

Was it easy? Hell no. I had to show vulnerability to a person who I believed I shouldn’t be showing it to. But having the courage to open up to her and then eventually to the rest of my team showed them that I was real. A real person, with a real life, with real struggles like everyone else. I learned that while they wanted many things from me as their leader, what they wanted most right now was my vulnerability. So I gave it to them.

And what did I learn? That instead of seeing me as weak, they saw me as strong. Strong for dealing with what I was dealing with and yet still being (almost) the leader they always knew. I’m grateful to them for having the courage to stand up because what it did, is force me to have the courage to realise I didn’t always have to.


The author of this piece is someone who I admire greatly; I enjoy every opportunity that we have to work together as we debate, learn and laugh together. 

As we head into 2019, I encourage you to reflect on your leadership and consider what vulnerability and courage will enable for you and the team you lead.  While risk may exist, which actions are worthwhile taking so that you may be your best, authentic self?  So that you create an environment which inspires everyone to thrive and reach their potential?

I feel very honoured and grateful to be able to share this piece with you.


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