Leadership in Times of Crisis: Vulnerability as a Strength

April 7, 2020

by Dave Bushy

Leaders emerge during times of crisis, formal titles or not.  They provide support, strength and vision for those around them.  And they give something else of themselves: vulnerability. 

Our presence as leaders is not only about projections or manifestations of strength.  It is about being open to the concept of vulnerability – which, paradoxically, in and of itself is a strength.

Is there anyone in the world today who does not feel vulnerable? 

In speaking with leaders in recent days, I find that many are struggling with their personal situations (working at home with young children, for instance), as well as their own insecurities  and fears.  They confess to me that they are reluctant to tell others what they are experiencing, although they realize the emotions they feel are universal.  These leaders sometimes conclude that telling others what they are experiencing might be a sign of weakness. 

I ask my clients “What do you feel vulnerable about now?” and “How would it serve you and your team by talking about it?”  Also, “How can you best establish a connection with your people during this crisis?”  Finally, “What do you think your people concerned about?” 

What emerges from their answers?   That opening up on a personal level is what people need.  And a leader who speaks of his or her own challenges opens up the possibilities for others to speak about theirs.  That solidifies the connection – that human contact – which is so important to each of us. 

Once we have connected as human beings, it is then easy to glide into the strategic issues and tasks required of each of us.  Absent that contact, the emotional challenges we face can effectively create a barrier to contact, as well as the teamwork and action in which we all need to engage.

Yesterday a client related to me that she is using Zoom every day to connect with her direct reports – about ten people.  It is a short call and always begins with a check-in.  The check-in begins with each person sharing what they are experiencing and what is happening in their life.  It is filled with personal feelings and the daily challenges people face.  Sometimes a young child even wanders within range of the camera.  My client has found that she intentionally gives space to each person’s conversation with the others on the call, with the knowledge that it provides a connection with each other and with the team as a whole. 

Her conclusion?  That a team that never even considered remote work is bonded together more than ever.  Silos and fences have virtually disappeared.  Moving into the work challenges of the day after that check-in is far easier as a result, simply because each person has developed an intimate and personal connection with the other – and that is over a video platform!  She plans on using a quick in-person check-in every day when they reenter their workspaces.

Brene Brown is a great resource for leaders regarding vulnerability.  Brown notes,

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.  Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”  

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Brown speaks of courage, which has its origins in the French word for “heart.” The mind may be able to come up with strategic direction, goals and objectives.  Yet it is the heart that allows the very connection that allows us to meet each other and work towards common goals.  Our strategic planning and intent must be braided with the personal  connections with others in order to reach our full potential as teams and as leaders.

Today the need for leaders to model vulnerability and to invite it in return is paramount.  We cannot push aside our current challenges, and we can admit and embrace our own insecurities – providing a door for others to join us to meet those challenges.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in The Little Prince wrote: “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” 

Our hearts connect us – one to the other – and make us human.  And that in turn makes each of us better leaders, whenever our turn to lead emerges.

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry.  He experienced the challenges of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Image by Diégo GERNAIS from Pixabay

Get a Free 30-minute Consultation

We'd love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out for a free 30-minute phone consultation, to see how executive coaching can help you and your orgniaztion.

Get a FREE Consultation