On the spectrum of Disney Princesses, Merida is one of my faves. With all three of my kids, I must have watched every Disney movie known to man. My girls, in particular, had some favorite Princesses and Heroines – Jasmine, Ariel, Rapunzel – but Merida always stood out to me. She took no crap from anyone. She had belief in her passions, strength in her convictions and frustration in her mistakes. I like that.
While at WorkHuman in Austin, one of my distinct pleasures was hearing Brene Brown live and in person. She was wonderfully approachable and clearly focused. Her message resonated with the audience, in large part due to her attention to courage. Brene challenged our considerations between vulnerability and bravery. She asked, “Think about a time when you observed bravery. Was risk involved?” Of course. “Is risk vulnerable?” Yup. So why categorize bravery as separate from vulnerability?
Many guys are taught that vulnerability is weakness. Why would that be weakness? Brene spoke to major league sports teams who struggled to think of examples of courage without vulnerability. They could not. They recognized that being brave is conviction-based, values-aware, but still extremely exposed to risk. Strength is found in the ability to handle that vulnerability and risk as a matter of course. Sometimes, it’s in the silence that our vulnerability is most raw, but our bravery is most activated.
My son is brave. For 6 years, he suffered with scoliosis. He wore a hard back brace for over 5 years. He had two surgeries to repair his back – a Chiari malformation in his neck and rod insertion to correct his spine – which took two summers of his high school life. He learned to walk with a new gait. He spent hours in pain and just willed himself through it. He let me see him at his most vulnerable, and I find him to be one of the most courageous people I have ever known.
We don’t need to wait for something medical or life-threatening. I know that many leaders struggle with the right level of vulnerability. How much should I share? How might I seem too weak to my staff if I am constantly asking for feedback? How will my team feel empowered if I come across as unsure?
Courage is inspiring. And if that courage comes with some vulnerability, as it will, then that’s okay. A look of fear or a tear in the eye aren’t enough to undo your role. Facing those fears head-on, owning the uncertainty and being fueled by the pain make us brave. And bravery will rally people.