As Dr. Brene’ Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”(2012). Holding this idea, let’s consider the stereotype of a CEO, CFO, Director, President, etc. Do these two things align? That is to say, does your image of a company leader lie synonymous with vulnerability? If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably, “No”, perhaps even, “Hell, No!”
But this old paradigm of leadership is not only shifting – it’s turning up side down. The old model of authority and decision-making power being concentrated at the top of an organizational hierarchy is rapidly changing. Rather than orders being issued from above and carried out by subordinates down below, the inverted pyramid places leaders and managers at the bottom. This idea is not focused on power or even control; it’s about a change in philosophical thinking and pragmatic action. In this new model, leaders are not isolated figureheads that hold all the answers, barking out orders that the non-enlightened employees must follow. Instead, the new model allows the leader to use innovation and creativity to effect positive change within an organization. There is mindfulness in the creative leader’s action – valuing the wisdom of their staff, infusing leadership within all levels of the organization, and making conscious choices rather than acting from unconscious habits. These creative leaders, at the heart of it all, are willing to be vulnerable.
Now, one word that may be synonymous with the old version of leadership is ego. Do I hear a, “Yes”, perhaps even, “Hell, Yes!” As I imagine someone “climbing the ranks” in the old version of the hierarchy, I envision Friedrich Nietzsche as he so eloquently writes, “Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’. And ego, of course, feeds on fear – Fear of failure, of loss, of losing face, of losing control, of not knowing the right answer, not knowing the next big move, and so on. Ego is the opposite of vulnerability. Ego pals around with perfectionism. And perfectionism is the serial killer of innovation, change, and most certainly, creativity (Gilbert, 2015). As the performance artist, Marina Abramovic writes, “Your ego can become an obstacle to your work. If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”
But the goal is not to do away with all traces of fear. When we focus on eliminating fear, we simply wrap ourselves up in imagined armor, losing our authentic selves and seriously injuring our ability to connect with others (and connection is a pretty important tool for creative leaders). In her manifesto, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “It seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it. Fear and creativity shared a womb. I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process” (2015).
Vulnerability can be terrifying, especially given the old mental models of leader, manager, and boss. Ego tells the leader, “Don’t ask questions – give answers.” Vulnerability says, “Ask questions – Many, many questions – In fact, that is the only way to ascertain the answer.” Ego says, “I Know”. Vulnerability says, “I don’t know.” Ego says, “No”. Vulnerability says, “Let’s find out”.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” (Brown, 2012). In other words, vulnerability feels a whole bunch like fear, accept fear doesn’t get to answer the call. Creative leaders pat fear on the back and say, “Thanks, Dude, but you’re not really needed right now. I’ll catch you on the ride home when I’m driving a bit too fast around a corner. That’s when I really need you. I sure appreciate you looking out for me, but my ego is going on a diet. I’m letting vulnerability take the lead.”
Tiffany Grimes is a Transformational Coach and Consultant partnering with all levels of creative leaders as they embrace vulnerability and move towards positive organizational change. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brown, Dr. Brene’ (2012). Daring Greatly. New York, NY: Penguin Group
Gilbert, Elizabeth (2015). Big Magic. New York, NY: Penguin Random House, LLC