I’m starting a new project, and am feeling vulnerable. So I wanted to write something about it. To try something new, you have to be willing to believe in something when few others do. You have have to be willing to fail, sometimes in obscurity, and sometimes publicly. There’s the risk of loneliness and embarrassment.

Somehow vulnerability is the essence of leadership. It is holding a flag and a vision and saying, will you join me? Often we think of leaders as invulnerable, and there have been many who have tried to be so. But the ones we empathize with and connect with and are willing to follow are the vulnerable ones, the ones who are human. The ones who can make a mistake, admit it, and correct it. And great leaders do that over and over again, and help their team do it, until they succeed.

Brené Brown writes and talks about vulnerability, and has a great TED talk on it. She says it’s the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And yet it often feels yucky. So for members of teams that want to be great, it seems to be important to lean into it. Even just the simple ask of asking for help means you need to be vulnerable. And asking for help is a key factor in success– personal success, and the success of a team.

If I’m afraid to be vulnerable, there’s a high cost to asking for help. I have a hard time accessing the skills, talent, and creativity of my team members. This is “head-gap” – high cost to use others’ talents as if they were mine. Progress slows.

But if asking for help is fast and effortless, I can immediately start using other peoples’ abilities as if they were mine. And they can use my abilities as if those abilities were their own. Progress happens quickly. Head-gap is low.

So vulnerability opens the door to help– creativity, collaboration, assistance.

The project I’m working in is much bigger than me, bigger than one person– teams are often working on projects that are bigger than what one person can accomplish. They rely on people asking for help from each other, and thrive on vulnerability– when I don’t know the answer or solution, my teammate can show their strength in that area, and we can succeed together.

Vulnerability brings connection too. It’s scary, and I generally won’t do it for its own sake. But to grow, I need to look for a larger purpose. I’ve found I’m often willing to be vulnerable in the service of something larger– to help others for instance. The larger the purpose and the more connected it is with my heart, the more willing I am to deepen that vulnerability. It’s much easier for a team to be vulnerable together and believe in a shared vision together– alone we often feel powerless, but even with a few others, we can try for something inspiring. So paradoxically vulnerability leads to growth and connection, which leads to strength.

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.

Teddy Roosevelt

This is part of the book Summoning Genius.