Where Vulnerability and Work Intersect

Vulnerability as a concept is getting some good PR these days, and I for one am thrilled about it. Brené Brown’s research on authenticity, shame, and vulnerability has opened our eyes to the power of understanding one’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and fears, and it’s fundamentally changing the way we do business.

Coming from an HR background, hearing the phrase “vulnerability at work” would have set off alarm bells when I was working in a corporate setting. It’s easy to conflate ‘vulnerability’ with ‘TMI’: what Brown advocates has nothing to do with revealing dark secrets or discussing confidential information that would make an HR manager run in the opposite direction. Vulnerability as Brown defines it is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”: the opposite of what we’re taught to bring to our work.

In American work culture, vulnerability has been associated with weakness: the archetype of the stoic, take-no-prisoners, there’s-no-crying-in-baseball type of boss is glorified, and leadership and humanity have been viewed as competing ideals. But as the implications of a toxic work environment continue to affect the bottom line, companies can no longer afford to ignore the facts: a culture of intimidation and ‘results-at-any-cost’ isn’t just wrong, it’s bad for business.

My previous post highlighted a core concept of Conscious Capitalism, which seeks to redefine the role that business has in society, reflected through its tagline “elevating humanity through business”. The book’s authors posit that, when we hire someone, we don’t just get a set of skills, experience, and education: we’re hiring a whole human, complete with fears, worries, hopes, and values just like everyone else. When we engage the whole human, people are encouraged and empowered to express themselves and be vulnerable, accessing their creativity and doing meaningful work that contributes to the organization — and creates a sense of self-worth that makes employees stick around.

All business is ultimately about relationships, and employing vulnerability in our messaging and in our day-to-day work is a big step towards elevating business (and work culture) to a manifestation of our own humanity. When we are vulnerable in the workplace and in our work itself, we invite worthiness to the table: Brown calls vulnerability a crucial strength, an invaluable tool to combat the “never enough” culture that pervades workplaces.

For conscious businesses, not only is vulnerability a competitive business advantage, it’s an imperative. As an imperfect human, I am constantly making mistakes and learning from them, both in work and in life. I am proud to say that vulnerability is at the core of my business: allowing myself to be vulnerable and encouraging my clients to do the same is when real magic can happen. Human connection is the “why” behind everything we do, and vulnerability is the key to that connection.

What are you doing to invite vulnerability into your work?