Vulnerability “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” From Wikipedia, “Vulnerability refers to the inability (of a system or a unit) to withstand the effects of a hostile environment. A window of vulnerability (WOV) is a time frame within which defensive measures are diminished, compromised or lacking.”
Being guarded (not vulnerable) exists at the Preservation level of the GAP Inspiration Model. It is there to protect your emotional state and shield you from things that would harm you (your ego). It is a powerful tool of self-preservation but can cause problems at Association and Growth levels. It holds you back, limits leadership effectiveness or contributes to a toxic and political culture.
Personal & Work Impact
When you are being too guarded you negatively impact your associations. You keep everyone at a distance never creating emotional bonds and partnerships. It limits the amount of feedback and growth opportunities available to you. The result is inauthentic social interactions that bring little value and cast you in a poor light.
Being too guarded causes you to be unapproachable and rigid in the view of others, especially your teams. It creates barriers between others that limit personal connections. Those connections are some of the most powerful tools to build supporters for you and help grow others. Finally, it can lead to enabling toxic people that are very defensive themselves.
When a business lacks vulnerability it starts to develop a negative and political culture. The employees become:
- Cautious and restrained when interacting with others
- Actions are calculated and intentional to defend interests
- Interactions are discreet limiting the sharing of information
- A noncommital culture develops that sows lack of action or value
The culture that develops feeds upon itself getting increasingly less vulnerable and more toxic as time goes. Unfortunately it also happens slowly at first, making understanding the root cause (lack of vulnerability) difficult. That results in other things being blamed.
Creating Vulnerability Balance
Getting the right vulnerability balance is unique to you, your situation, your role and your environment. It is difficult to give blanket advice without knowing the details. However, there are tips that you can use to strike a good balance as you manage your vulnerability levels.
It is important to understand and factor in your environment and mental state. Being guarded is sometimes a survival tool that is needed until a situation can be improved. Your Preservation layer must be healthy
Mistakes are wonderful learning opportunities for us. Embrace them like that to remove the fear of failure which can make you more guarded. Surround yourself with people that support that same viewpoint and you when mistakes are made. A toxic association is when someone uses failure against you.
For Executives and Business Owners, encourage mistakes. More than communicating a policy, really embrace it. Bake it into your mission statement and values. Support it with creating employee goals that allow for and support mistakes.
The best way to support others to be more vulnerable and in turn yours as well is to simply be supportive. Actively look for opportunities to authentically help out someone else. It helps to grow associations and gives you positivity which will translate into wanting to help others and get help from others.
For Executives and Business Owners, structure teams and the company to empower cross-functional support of people. It starts with making sure you are not overloading people. Those with no extra time cannot ask for help. Eliminate silos and try to spread teams across different leaders. Create hidden structures that require support from others.
Ask for Help
Simply asking others for help creates balanced vulnerability. It puts you into the mindset of needing assistance and the other person gains positivity from helping. The result is both of you having healthy levels of vulnerability. This has to be done with authenticity and integrity. Otherwise, it will have the opposite effect.
For Executives and Business Owners, encourage your leaders to ask for help from their teams. By setting an example it gives permission and makes it normal for others to ask for help. Some term this as Servant Based Leadership.
Having the right balance of vulnerability is key to having a strong Preservation level (GAP Inspiration Model). It allows you to have better associations, strengthening that level and empowering your future growth. Stop and think about your vulnerability level, is it at the right level to empower your growth? Are you in the right environment at work that encourages being vulnerable?