Jay Rifenbary

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Vulnerability - A Strength of Effective Leadership

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We normally tend to think of being vulnerable as a weakness, and when it pertains to an outside force that threatens us physically and emotionally that would be correct. However, being internally vulnerable can be a positive characteristic as it relates to a willingness to take ownership for your own mistakes, weaknesses, failures, and internal challenges. It takes strength and courage to be exposed and allow yourself to be vulnerable to what others may, or may not think of you. To be vulnerable pertains to having the internal fortitude to be comfortable with who you are, and who you are not.

It is not easy, nor should it be, to admit your mistakes, uncertainties and the shameful parts of your life. Yet, the aftermath of such courage brings forth a greater sense of personal acceptance and contentment. To believe you are invulnerable is an escape from reality, and most importantly an escape from personal accountability. At times, we all put on a suit of armor to prevent penetration of the truth, but depending on how long we wear that armor will determine how accepting, content and happy we will be. A Knight in shining armor who never takes his suit off will eventually die from exhaustion, a false belief of who they thought they were, and an expectation of what they thought they could achieve.

From a leadership perspective, vulnerability stimulates a collective respect from those who follow, because it reveals a genuineness of personal honesty by the leader, and dismantles the perception of ego and arrogance. It lets others in with the knowledge that you may not have all the answers, but have the strength to be humble and willing to allow others to be part of the process, and contribute to the success of the team. This immediately enhances mutual trust that leads to greater communication within the team. It creates an environment were others are more at ease to offer suggestions and ideas as there is an understanding that this is a united effort.

To be vulnerable does not mean that your failures, mistakes and uncertainties can be used as excuses to not reach your full potential, but rather a personal awareness of the continued journey to be a better and more honest you. As American author Madeleine L’Engle said, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

From a personal perspective, to barricade yourself from being vulnerable, is barricading yourself from truly feeling and emotionally connecting with others. You can never be fully happy and trusting in any relationship when there is the deception that you may be portraying someone you are not. As a public speaker, one of my primary responsibilities is to connect with my audience, and inspire them to be receptive to the message I am about to share. I have experienced countless times where the more vulnerable I am in my delivery, the more receptive and impactful my message is. The personal and professional stories I share of my failures, disappointments, struggles, mistakes, and the lessons learned only add to my relationship with the audience, and the value of the message delivered. To demonstrate an air of being all knowing in any venue, only creates an atmosphere of arrogance and potential distrust.

Always remember, you teach best in life what you want to learn the most, and honestly admitting what you wish to learn the most, is being beautifully vulnerable. As Sigmund Freud said, “Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” To deny your internal vulnerability is to be personally dishonest, i.e. projecting one thing and living another. It also reflects a lack of personal accountability in regard to taking ownership for your past, present and future. How fun it is to accept that no one is perfect, and to live a life that expresses that acceptance for yourself and others. I have a hope that there will come a day that aligns the expectations of society with the true essence of each individual. It is a hope that eliminates the destructive forces of self-centeredness, ego, narcissism, greed, deceit, and absent integrity. What a wonderful world that would be?



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