Good Leaders Practice Public Nakedness


Click for TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability

Hold on, keep an open mind – stay with me.

Before you write me off as some kind of a whacked-out leadership consultant, let me explain…

I was speaking at a 2 day event with some friends in attendance I hadn’t seen for years. At lunch time I had the opportunity to speak with some of these people and catch up on what was going on in our lives.

I was chatting with one person during the meal and found myself uttering a phrase that led to his look of shocked disbelief. I had been talking about the speaking I have been doing and the leadership work I am involved in. That’s when I indicated that sometimes it feels like I am practicing public nakedness.

What I meant by that is really all about vulnerability and transparency.

Good leaders – wholehearted leaders – choose to be vulnerable and transparent with others. We cannot engage at a meaningful level with those we lead if we are unwilling to expose ourselves a little; if we are unwilling to be seen; if we make every attempt to cover up shortcomings, weaknesses, doubts and failures to simply share shallow glory stories that no one can really relate to, or worse, we share nothing of depth at all.

Leaders live publicly and, therefore, must be willing to be publicly transparent and vulnerable.

I am not talking about completely baring your soul to those you lead – that merely creates insecurity within the ranks. However, being open about some shortcomings, or failures we have experienced doesn’t diminish our leadership in the eyes of those we lead – it strengthens their commitment. We become a real person to whom they can relate.

I heard the story of one leader who began his staff meeting by recounting all the mistakes he had made in the last year. He then went on to tell what he had learned from that and how they would proceed more intelligently from here.

I believe that when we are vulnerable we invite others in. We become a real person who is courageously moving forward learning from mistakes and inviting others to do the same. Settle the issue: no one is perfect – we all make mistakes. So why not live in an appropriate degree of vulnerability instead of modelling for your team how to be a one-handed worker? (One to do the work, because the other one is covering your butt.)

We don’t have to be perfect.

Do we need to be decisive? Yes. Courageous? Yes. Creative, competent, committed, confident, consistent, communicative? Yes, and much more.

However, we will never bat 1000 – we will never be the perfect leader and always demonstrate the critical character qualities of leadership. We can fake it, be shallow and aloof, or model how to lead and move forward in imperfection by courageously choosing to be vulnerable, transparent and communicate what we are learning and growing in.

It’s been said, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”  (Brene Brown)

Again, I am not saying that we should completely unveil all of our failures to everyone, but there is something very inviting about someone who is able to courageously and appropriately share an area of failure or doubt, learn from it and keep moving forward. It speaks to a deeper sense of confidence knowing that our value is greater than simply how well we perform.

Vulnerability opens the door to relationship. If we are not vulnerable and willing to trust, there can be no relationship. There can be no relating to each other. What makes us vulnerable makes us relatable, approachable and embraceable.

Vulnerability and transparency are critical prerequisites for being wholehearted.

Good leaders practice vulnerability and transparency. So I dare you, go for it – practice some “public nakedness”. You and your team will be better for it.

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Leading and Living on Purpose.