Someone very close to me died recently, and I've been thinking a lot about the choices we make in life. I was struck by these two words on the flight home from the funeral.
Being vulnerable is viewed as a bad thing - giving up power or control or self-determination or... In relationships I've often heard it said that when you express your true feelings, or if you "give in" too quickly, etc., you're vulnerable - you've put yourself "out there," are weakened and at the mercy (and ridicule) of others.
In business, training classes say assertiveness, authority and decisiveness are the keys to leadership and creating a reputation for getting things done. If you "open up" or become too accessible, you risk losing respect, not being able to lead effectively, etc. It makes you less of a leader. Similarly your company can't appear to be anything but always correct and impervious to failings, or it will lose value in the eyes of the market and its customers.
Western society is obsessed with immediate gratification, with silver bullets, and with the idea that success is measured based on relative achievement vs. actual achievement.
When you buy into that article or book or class that promises you "Ten Sure-Fire Techniques to Find and Keep Your Wo/Man" or "Ten Management Techniques Guaranteed to Make You Succeed and Get Promoted" you are making the same bet for success as the person that buys the "Amazing Pill that Will Melt Away Your Unwanted Pounds in Minutes Without Dieting or Exercise." You are betting that someone else's approach, vision and values matter more than your own, or you.
When we treat people or "manage" people based on a formula or techniques like this, we have taken a shameful step towards treating our fellow humans as objects and not people. This is one of the reasons I'm not a fan of most MBA programs - they tend to distill everything into simple lists and lessons which are then taught as gospel.
Why should I have "Ten Techniques" to solve every problem in my life? That seems insulting, dismissive and inhuman. when we honor our friends, lovers, family, co-workers, customers, constituents, etc. as people, we become better ourselves. When we avoid formulaic approaches, we are more genuine, and create simpler, more real, and more lasting results.
I was re-reading Management of the Absurd (a gift from my friend Larry) and noted an informal survey the author did asking people to recall great moments of parenting from when they were a child, or great moments in management as employees. In both cases, the vignettes that were shared (and remembered) were those that had nothing to do with top ten lists, or being in a teachable moment, or even having any real outcome or victory - they were points at which humanity was expressed and connections were made - it was when the partner/leader became a real person.
We all know that feelings are reciprocated. To think of your partner or employees as "things" to be "managed," you MUST lose respect for them as people. They are now corporate assets, and your loyalty is to the outcome and not the people. Their loyalty is unclear or perhaps irrelevant?
We can all tell when we're being treated as objects, we can all tell when a boy or girl is "working" us, we can all tell when organizations are spinning us. When we "smell" this, do we react with an outpouring of love?
If Toyota had immediately acknowledged the issues with their cars, responded with honestly and action vs. obfuscation and inaction, many cars would already be fixed and they would be secure in the knowledge that they had acted with integrity and lived up to their ethos of caring for their customers and the work they did. Their customers, having sensed that while vulnerable, Toyota acted with integrity and honor, would believe more deeply in the brand and re-purchase knowing that when problems came up, the company would face them. Toyota's vulnerability would become its strength. In fact, I bet that this approach would not only increase loyalty, it would attract new customers - this is the kind of product people want to trust.
When managers genuinely care about their people and their work, they engender a sense of loyalty that not only stands the test of time, but also results in the team doing everything possible (and even impossible) to make sure they don't let the boss down. They will say, "we all pulled together and got it done; when one of us is in trouble, we stand together and act, we take care of our own." They will say this with pride.
When I express myself and how I feel, when I don't hold back, I feel like a load has been lifted from me. That rather than making myself less, I am strengthened. I feel more embraced and less alone.
Being vulnerable is about caring, it is about being expressive and honest. Your vulnerability doesn't imprison you - it sets you free. It gives you the power to have faced and not hidden; it gives you the ability to live and not cope; it secures you in the knowledge that it is OK to care, to cry, to feel because we are human. We respond to genuine feelings articulated badly and tearfully much more than contrived, homogenized PR/legal speak.