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The Transformative Power of Vulnerability: Lessons from Dr. Brené Brown


Written by Emmy German, Align Advisor

Vulnerability is “In”

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we know that we need to put ourselves out there to find success. But do we?

In a new Netflix special, researcher, author, and story-teller Dr. Brené Brown summarizes her 20 years of research uncovering the importance of practicing vulnerability to finding joy.

Dr. Brown’s life changed when she read the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“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…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.”

Dr. Brown even named her book “Daring Greatly”. Using 20 years of data and interviews, she finds that if you are not willing to be “in the arena”, you are not willing to discover your full self and unlock happiness.

Taking the Leap

Dr. Brown acknowledges that most people associate courage with strength and vulnerability with weakness. She observes, however, that there is no vulnerability without courage. As it relates to our professional lives, this means we need to be willing to risk failure in order to succeed.

When I started in sales, I had trouble with the idea that I could be “bothering” a customer, who might hang up on me. Thinking that getting hung up on was the worst possible outcome, I was afraid to even start dialing. Preoccupied with “failure”, I held myself back from finding success.

As business leaders making decisions with jobs and lives at stake, we often hesitate to choose the difficult path and take the leap into the uncertain. Yet Dr. Brown’s research demonstrates that the choosing difficult path is most often rewarded.

For example, Facebook would not exist if Mark Zuckerberg had decided to finish his Harvard degree and get a job on Wall Street like many of his peers did. Travis Kalanick went into bankruptcy with his first company, Scour Inc., a multimedia file sharing service, before creating Uber in 2007. While the risk of failure is unavoidable, you can never know what you are capable of achieving until you get “in the arena”.

Oftentimes we hide behind the false pretense of acting “vulnerable” on stage or on social media. But this is not true “vulnerability”.

For Dr. Brown, true vulnerability means a willingness to have the uncomfortable conversations at work. We live in an important time in history. Yet, our HR teams often encourage hushed tones and political correctness around the toughest topics. Our leadership setting the stage for more honest discussion can create a more inclusive and comfortable workplace, driven by vulnerability, trust, and empathy.

Practicing Empathy

Dr. Brown also speaks about the concept of “blame” and our knee-jerk reaction of blaming others. Dr. Brown says that:

“Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process. Blame is simply a way that we discharge anger. People who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we spend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. Blaming is very corrosive in relationships and it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy.”

A culture of blame directly correlates to a lack of success in the workplace. Employees need a sense of empathy from their coworkers and managers in order to display vulnerability in the workplace.

The faster you grow your business, the faster you will not only find success but also failure. You have a choice every day to choose comfort or to choose courage. At Align, we choose courage. As Dr. Brown proves, choosing courage gives us all the opportunity to be “in the arena” and reach our full potential.


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