In an earlier post I asked: What skills and attributes does a principal need?
I answered my own question, listing things like vision, endurance and the last one was courage.
A tweet came back: “courage” is a key one.
How often is the ‘courage’ of leadership raised?
I watched a TED talk recently on vulnerability. Brene Brown, a qualitative researcher, emphasised the power in being vulnerable and the courage of vulnerability.
A city is vulnerable to attack, my home may be vulnerable to crime and a body vulnerable to infection. These statements convey negative impressions. So why, then, is being vulnerable important and worthwhile?
Through a journey that was personally painful, Brown looked at ‘How the whole-hearted live’. They lived with courage and vulnerability. The ‘whole-hearted’ have a strong sense of love and belonging and believe they are worthy of this. These people fully embrace what made them vulnerable and this also made them beautiful. This is not comfortable.
Vulnerability is essential to wholeheartedness and a wholehearted leader is the best kind of leader. Why? Because leadership is about people and people hurt and are hurt. We talk about the soft-skills of leadership, when they are really the tough skills of leadership.
I guess the term ‘soft’ emerged as a descriptor of a less tangible set of skills that focus on people, rather than task. In a sense, however, the term ‘soft’ underplays their significance. More and more the leader today is working alongside a team of people, charged to bring out their best as a means of achieving corporate or collective goals. The command-and-control method is no longer as effective.
A team needs a leader who knows them, understands them, appreciates them and, dare I say, loves them. This isn’t a one way street. The leader also wants to be known, understood, appreciated and, dare I say, loved. This kind of relationship can only work with vulnerability
Vulnerability cannot occur without courage.
Being vulnerable means ‘capable of being wounded or hurt’. In a war zone, the soldier goes into battle, knowing that he or she is capable of being wounded or hurt, but they go anyway. The soldier shows courage, but courage and fear are not mutually exclusive.
Courage, and perhaps fear, are at the heart of leadership.
The derivation of the word courage is ‘heart’, a Middle English word from Old French corage, and from Latin cor ‘heart’, denoting the heart, as the seat of feelings. Vulnerability takes courage, because it is placing myself, with chinks in my armour into the fray. Because of this I am more likely to show my authentic self, and I am real.
Brene Brown’s in depth investigation of vulnerability led to an unexpected consequence, what her therapist called a ‘spiritual awakening’, Brown called a breakdown, as it revealed elements of herself she needed to address.
The journey to vulnerability is not an easy nor comfortable one, but it will make us better leaders if we are courageous enough to take it.