Over the past two days, I have been watching a lot (read: MANY) TED talks.
At first, I was searching talks by labels (the ‘funny’ ones were awesome), then slowly but surely I stumbled on talks suggested by what I can only assume is the TED site’s highly sophisticated website code. Eventually, I found Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability. I’m always excited and intrigued when someone is able to more articulately explain my view of life, love and leadership, and this talk quite accurately outlines how I’ve tried to cultivate important relationships and how I act as a leader.
The idea of vulnerability is, at the best of times, repulsive and outright terrifying. It betrays a sense of weakness that, as a leader, we are taught to feel ashamed of. We are meant to show no fear, almost no emotion, acting as role models of strength for those who could not possibility be leaders as they are unable to control their emotions. I have always felt this to be puzzling, as I often wear my heart on my sleeve and have been known to openly discuss not just the logistics of a plan but how its progress makes me feel (especially when those inevitable obstacles crop up).
What Brown’s talk emphasizes for me is the faulty logic that connects strength with a lack of displayed emotion. I have encountered many people who have made a choice (conscious or not) to hide emotions and disengage from conversations that go ‘beyond the surface’. By keeping up this tough exterior, they claim to maintain an air of strength and power, as they have such control over emotions that, they claim, can cloud judgement and make them appear weak in the eyes of others. Meeting these people did, for a time, make me feel weak and somehow deficient, as I could not, and would not, hide emotions as they came. I acknowledged my fear, discussed my insecurities and shed tears when I was sad. My behaviour was often met with puzzlement and general disdain, labeling me as weak.
What I still cannot understand, is how choosing to hide something rather than acknowledge and confront its existence implies strength. Burying feelings and refusing to air them seems to imply a greater fear, such that allowing pain or sadness to be felt at all could reveal inadequacies or weakness. Fear of weakness is still fear, making this cycle of feeling, fear and burying feeling entirely self defeating. I also find it difficult to see these people as authentic leaders, as they spend more time hiding parts of themselves than sharing with those around them.
Brown’s most powerful question in her talk that resonated with me was ‘Aren’t you enough?’ We hide, and are often repulsed by, such negative emotions all the while forgetting that they remain a part of us, driving how we act and what we say. Denying these emotions seems to therefore mean that we deny parts of ourselves, those that influence our role as a leader as much as those emotions we are more comfortable sharing.
A true signal of strength for me is to acknowledge, not hide, all parts of oneself. A leader leads by example, showing strength of character by showing emotion instead of running from it. Fighting with oneself exposes conflicting words and actions that are no longer the mark of a leader, but rather someone afraid of true authenticity.
As Andrew Cohen said “The thought of being a leader may seem like an appealing idea to the ego, but the reality of what being an authentic leader implies scares the ego to death.” Perhaps what we are scared of is not having others know us, but rather what may happen when we truly know ourselves.
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