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The Importance of Acknowledging Individual Vulnerability

The Importance of Acknowledging Individual Vulnerability
As we considered in the context of having to make decisions with limited information, we’re going to make mistakes. Similarly, many crisis are the product of vulnerabilities in the way we operate, the way we conduct business, and the choices were forced to make as we create the greatest amount of value we can with limited resources. Why does this become an issue in the crisis environment? It requires that leaders deal with the reality of weak spots and vulnerabilities and existing institutional structures, values, and routines, all of which contribute some degree of responsibility to the crisis that is currently being dealt with. These very public displays of organizational imperfection require leaders to acknowledge that they themselves are vulnerable and imperfect.
For leaders, this is not a natural or comfortable act. But to be a high-stakes leader, it’s a responsibility that you’ll have to accept. In this course, we won’t have much time to address either of these vulnerabilities. Those are the organization, or those of its leaders. But I’d like to share a thought or two here on each. On the issue of organizational vulnerability, we’ve talked about the nature of business in today’s VUCA world.
I believe that there’s been a movement over the last couple of decades to organizational philosophies that embrace a learning fast, innovating, and always getting better mindset, which is a considerable departure from that of the flawlessly excellent mindset which described the philosophies and branding messages at the turn of the century. This change has not been driven so much by companies lack of interest and delivering exceptional quality, but the definition of quality has evolved a bit from perfect to constantly evolving to meet stakeholder needs. My point here, is that the notion of perfection is becoming less of an aspiration as businesses try to keep up with they’re constantly changing landscapes.
This should help us at least to some extent, feel a little more comfortable about the expectations of our stakeholders. To the issue of leadership vulnerability, it’s interesting how much research has been done in the topic of late. If you’re a reader of business literature, and I hope that you are, I have a half dozen books at the ready at any given time, Dr. Brene Brown, has done some really nice work on this topic. Her latest book, Dare to Lead, presents some wonderful and useful thoughts on the importance of leadership vulnerability. Nowhere in her writing, does she suggest that vulnerability is bad. In fact, in an earlier work, she shared as her first myth of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a weakness.
It is absolutely not. This is without question, a myth. If you speak to any CEO or military veteran, anyone who’s expected to perform under conditions that a high-stakes leader is required to face during a crisis situation, each will tell you that it’s impossible to feel anything but vulnerable as you face challenging environments like these. Ultimately, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Everyone knows it. So high-stakes leaders must find a way to embrace rather than avoid this reality. Stakeholders aren’t expecting you to be flawless, or perfect, or omniscient, they really aren’t.
They are however, expecting you to be visible, to be courageous, and to be committed to the best possible path forward for all stakeholders irrespective of the origin of the crisis. One final thought here, that I just can’t leave on my shelf, mostly because I have this quote on my wall in my office and served a good portion of my C duty in the United States Navy on the USS, Theodore Roosevelt. Here is what former President Roosevelt had to say about those who hold back because they’re anxious about the prospect of making a mistake.
He said, ‘‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’’ As a high-stakes leader, don’t be fearful of the fact that you’ll make mistakes.
Without question, you will make them. But crisis are the times when your team, your organization, and your stakeholders need you to step up and lead. Embrace the fact that when you fail, you will fail daring greatly. All of your stakeholders, will ultimately recognize the incredible courage that it takes to lead during a crisis.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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