The strength of vulnerability in true leadership


In this blog, TPC Leadership Associate Partner Catherine Bardwell talks about how a very difficult personal situation led her to change her mindset around sharing her vulnerability.

Vulnerability and leadership

Vulnerability is defined as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Which, at first glance are oddly similar to key qualities of leadership. On closer inspection, however, the link is far more natural and perhaps even intrinsic.

I’ve long held a belief that displaying my own vulnerability could only happen in extremely rare circumstances. I feared that showing my vulnerability would undermine my strength. And with that, I would always try my best in all my endeavors to hide any sign of vulnerability, either through clenching my teeth whilst running the last kilometer of my cross-country runs, or ‘fake-smiling’ as I was making a spectacle of myself whilst doing a guitar piece at a concert in front of hundreds of people (oh yes, I was terrified!!)….

Our greatest measure of courage

Back in 2015, I watched a Dr Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability. She said vulnerability is not a weakness but rather our greatest measure of courage. Until I decided to show my vulnerability as a leader, I would never have understood the full extent of what she meant.

Last May, something happened that radically changed my attitude towards vulnerability. I was leading a workshop on leadership development for some wonderful participants in Denmark. Everything was going smoothly and as planned.

Then, I received a text from a dear friend of mine. She was explaining to her close friends that she only had a few more days before she would leave this world. Louisa was dying from cancer. I was expecting the message, but not so soon. She was informing us of her palliative care under the Princess Alice Hospice. I was overwhelmed with sadness and spent the whole of my lunchtime crying. But, I decided to carry on with my workshop.

Reframe a different perspective

I gathered all my inner-strength and chose to reframe a different perspective for myself that day by sharing my story to the participants. What I didn’t know was the knock-on effect this would create. An immense sense of trust emerged across the room. A sense of belonging and caring that I have never seen before. We collectively somehow allowed ourselves to share our vulnerability for the rest of the workshop, and as a consequence, dug deeper into each others’ meaning of leadership.

The feedback was monumental. I am still in touch with some of the participants, and regularly checking up on their progress

Sadly my friend passed away soon after.

Despite this deeply upsetting tragedy, I feel incredibly grateful. I’m thankful that my friend gave me this gift of vulnerability. Thankful that I shared it, showed it, and used it.

So please believe me when I say to let go of your preconceived ideas of vulnerability and use it as a strength to shine even more. If you shine, others will shine also!

We believe in leadership that harnesses the good intent and best beliefs of an organisation’s people, unifying them around a reason for being. Our unique leadership development, coaching and consulting solutions inspire your leaders and people to deliver extraordinary results in your businesses. 

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