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What Are You Afraid Of?

Oct 28, 2020 | Blog

GUEST POST BY DRAYTON BOYLSTON, The Mindfulness Mentor and an Executive Coach aligned with Manna Tree’s values and high-growth focus. Drayton is an excellent leadership coach for transformative teams. We also spoke with him recently on our podcast, The Deal Cast, Building Great Leaders.


What are you afraid of?

Those were the words a dear friend of mine posed to me after I taught one of my first leadership classes almost 20 years ago. I was stunned.

“What the heck are you talking about? I’m not afraid of anything (there may have been a bit of spittle on the corners of my mouth as I uttered these words).” How dare he?

He then posed an observation that stopped me in my tracks — “You have so much to offer people intellectually, but you are not letting people hear and see the real you. You are not opening up and being vulnerable with them. They will only connect with you on a deep level when they see the real you. Why don’t you let them?”

Bam!

He was spot on.

While I would love to tell you that I took his sage advice immediately, I didn’t. I was livid, and my ego jumped to the front of the line and took control. Had I been more aware, I would have checked in on a deeper level with my gut, which would have provided me with the right response vs. a visceral reaction. I had to process this on my terms.

I realized that I may not have all the answers, and that just maybe my fragile ego needed to be retooled. This one conversation opened up some cracks in my veneer that shook me to my core being. Was I up for the shift? Was I willing to be vulnerable?

As a “recovering” CEO, I was raised in the Old School of thought that “beat” into you (in the most loving, verbal abuse kind of way) that you have to be “ten feet tall and bulletproof.” You did not let anyone see that you were vulnerable in any way.

The idea of being vulnerable was never thought of, much less discussed. I can only imagine if I wrote this article 20 years ago. I would still be in therapy from the abuse.

Now, as a leader, it’s not a choice. It’s a necessity.

As an Executive Coach, I have the privilege of working with some amazing leaders. Most of them share one important trait; they are afraid to be vulnerable too. I say this in the most caring way. They are amazing people who are very driven, alpha types who genuinely care about others and take their leadership roles very seriously. Yet they have a collective blind spot. They still feel they need to come across as strong and stoic. Being vulnerable is almost too scary to think about.

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There is a seismic shift that is taking place in organizations that has been accelerated by the pandemic. The transition is to a new kind of leader that is willing to admit things, divulge things, address things that previously were waaaaaay off-limits.

They are much more open to working on being more vulnerable.

“I don’t know.” 

“I feel down.”

“I feel out of control.”

Raw, transparent, and authentic statements of feelings are seeing the light of day in the workplace. 

And guess what?

Vulnerability is emerging as a Superpower.

We’re not talking about crying on every Zoom call and letting everyone know that you are wearing your kitty slippers.

We are talking about showing up as a real, fragile human being and a vulnerable leader. THAT is what people want and need today. People want someone real. Someone they can relate to. They want someone who trusts their team enough to tell them the truth — about business issues and personal challenges as well. Someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable.

The truth is, your people already know about your warts. They see through any facade that you have put into place as a defense mechanism to protect yourself. They see you as you really are to others. They see the real you.

And guess what?

It undermines your credibility as a leader to keep this ruse going.

Here’s one of the cool things that you’ll discover when you start taking off the shackles of Old School stoic leadership –people will step up to help you. When you demonstrate the unbelievable courage that it takes to leap to the level of being a vulnerable leader, and show up raw and real and ask for their help with this blind spot that you have, they will become your biggest supporters and allies.

Do you know why? They want you to succeed. They, too, are going through many of the same challenges and want a leader who gets it. Someone who demonstrates what it’s like to be a human being – warts and all.

My guess is that your people would LOVE to help you become more of a vulnerable leader.

Will you give them a chance to catch you when you make this leap?

I’m still not great at being consistently vulnerable. The good news is, I’m getting better at it.

I now know that 20 years ago, I was indeed afraid. I know that overcoming my fear started me down the path of being vulnerable and, therefore, a much better leader and person. I hope that you will make a similar choice. What are you afraid of?