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The Power of Vulnerability

Each month Learning Forward will publish an exclusive blog post from Fierce, Inc. that explores aspects of communication that encourage meaningful collaboration. To read all of Fierce, Inc.'s blog posts, go to http://www.fierceinc.com/blog/.

I missed some amazing opportunities in my career because I thought I had to figure something out on my own or I wanted to do something perfectly. I now know that perfection is counter to growth, risk, innovation and, most importantly, authenticity.

The definition of a Fierce Conversation is one in which you come out from behind yourself, into the conversation, and make it real. We know something is authentic, genuine, and real when we see it or hear it. I've been witness to the raw power of authenticity in leadership. I've learned that if I want to fully embrace authenticity, I need to be willing to make myself vulnerable.

I was thrilled by Brene Brown's 2010 TEDx talk on vulnerability. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and has spent 10 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She discovered that "in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen... deeply seen."

She found that people who had high self-worth "had the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind, first to themselves and then to others. They had connection as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do for connection. They fully embraced vulnerability."

Often at work we revert to behavior that makes us seem invulnerable, even when we know better. We present an image of ourselves as know-it-all, or work hard in a vain attempt to know it all. And it's hard to relate to a person like this.

Having high expectations of yourself and others leads to continuous learning and improvement. However, a perfectionist mindset contributes to a culture where ego and striving for infallibility become more important than honesty, solid relationships, and the actual results we want.

Pay attention to the conversations in your team, in your school, in your district -- are people simply trying to prove they're right? Are they speaking with or to each other? Are they going into conversations willing to listen and to learn? Observe the undercurrent of these conversations. What's really going on? Find out and address it.

It takes confidence to admit you don't have the answers to everything. It's the path to real progress. Hold your own feet to the fire by asking yourself:

• Am I being honest with myself about my fears, strengths, weaknesses, about my behavior and the way I show up in my conversations?
• What am I pretending not to know? And also, what am I pretending to know?
• Whose reality do I need to interrogate? Maybe it's my own.

The most powerful thing we can do to create a culture of authenticity is to model it. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be transparent, and model the kind of behavior that invites others to put the truth on the table in a way that moves the relationship forward.

Let yourself be seen. You can't get the results you want without taking a risk. Confidence does not mean being without fear. It's having fear and moving through it anyway.

Embrace your imperfections. Earn people's respect by admitting and debriefing your misses in addition to your competence and triumphs. Be confident enough to say, "I don't have all the answers."

Speak from your heart, not your title. As the old saying goes, people don't care what you know until they know you care. If you achieve this, people eventually willingly receive your message, no matter how difficult the message.

In her TEDx talk, Brown says, "Give me a generation that has these qualities -- high self-worth, vulnerability, and connection -- and we'll solve today's problems." I'll add: Give us an organization, a team, a culture that has these qualities, and watch them change the world. It's possible.

Deli Moussavi-Bock
Director of Training, Fierce in the Schools

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