Stories, Vulnerability and Leadership

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In some ways the very act of telling a story about ourselves is an act of vulnerability because we are sharing who we are and how we think and feel. But just as we can tell ourselves stories that aren’t really true, so we can tell them to others. Stories of bravado and heroics, stories that ignore inconvenient truths or take a fantastical spin on our character, stories that are high on drama and low on meaning making. We think we are being open and vulnerable but unless we squirm, at least a little bit, we probably aren’t.

Brene Brown, the researcher in psychology who has made a name for herself in the area of vulnerability, says the definition of vulnerability, which came out of her research, is
• Uncertainty
• Risk
• Emotional Exposure

Brown argues that the difference between an armoured leader and a vulnerable, present leader is being able to say - ‘Yes, this is scary, I’m scared. We don’t know how this is going to turn out.’ It is being able to sit with and reveal our uncomfortable emotions.

Brown states that one of the reasons we need to develop our capacity to be vulnerable, is that vulnerability is not only the setting of all our so called negative emotions, it is the birth place of every positive emotion we have: of love, belonging, joy and empathy, as well as innovation, creativity and change. There's a lot at stake if we fail to develop the skill of being comfortable with sharing our uncomfortable.

Emma Seppala from Stanford University wrote in this 2014 article in Harvard Business Review:

Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself.

Why is human connection missing at work? As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work…..

Why do we feel more comfortable around someone who is authentic and vulnerable? Because we are particularly sensitive to signs of trustworthiness in our leaders.’

Where storytelling comes in is that it allows us to do this in a way that is measured, reflected and does not seek to be soothed by those listening. It has boundaries, it is controlled by the story, by the deliberate and conscious work that goes into shaping the story and how it is presented, and by learning and utilising the art and crafting process of the storyteller.

Storytelling allows time for us to process difficult events and emotions, for the seas to settle and for us to reflect and make sense or meaning out of the events and how we are going to deal with them. We channel our vulnerability into the story and we reveal who we are, what we believe and feel and how we want to go forward. Story allows, indeed encourages us to show humility.

It is a deeply moving and reflective process, to shape and then share stories from your life, with gifts for all, worth the effort on many level.

If you are sitting on your stories, or wondering how to bring stories into the work you do, make a free Story Call appointment with Kate, at the very least you will explore and open your mind to possibilities.