Power In Vulnerability & The Key to Top-Down Change

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Written by Pete Sena,
• 5 min read

Today I want to talk about the power of vulnerability and how it can unlock amazing possibilities for you personally and professionally. So first let’s start with the problem. The problem, in my opinion is that many of us show up and we’re not coming and being vulnerable, we’re not coming and being our true selves. So we all know what it feels like to be in a meeting and to feel shut down. To feel not heard. To feel like your voice doesn’t matter. Feel like your ideas aren’t good enough, right?

That’s how I felt when I first started making these videos and what I realized was I look at things and I would critique the color, or critique the frame, or the audio, or the way I looked; and nothing was getting published. You know, done is not always better than perfect but when I started putting myself out there and I stopped paying attention to the trolls, I started seeing that there were people that I could inspire. There were people that I could reconnect with. And that’s where I think the power of social media really comes in. The power of just connecting with people.

But back to vulnerability for a second: I think the reason why people don’t allow themselves to show up as vulnerable is because of the behaviors that they see from the top. I’ve worked at a lot of big companies, I’ve worked with a lot of big clients, c-suite type of executives, and I think that behavior is learned. From the time you’re a kid, you see your parents, see things on TV, or your friends. If people are afraid to be vulnerable because they’re more concerned with being right than they are with being wrong or learning, there’s no shot for a bottom-up change in your organization to happen. I think the reality today is that most organizations are trying to get flatter. They’re trying to get more holacratic. But the reality is hierarchy is a thing. And change is the only constant. If you’re at the top of your organization and you’re not creating a space for psychological safety, you’re not encouraging people to share ideas, then innovation is just not possible for you.

If you’re afraid to ask the what-if question or you’re afraid to be wrong, there’s no way that you can be right or be reimagined. When you find yourself met up against one of those things, ask yourself and ask your boss and ask your colleagues: “What are you so afraid of? What would be being right look like? What’s so bad about being wrong?”

I love being able to encourage people to put themselves out there. I think that when you can show up and be yourself, when you are right and being wrong more often, you’re going to fail forward. You’re going to learn more. It starts with asking questions. If you’re afraid to speak up in a meeting, you maybe visit your boss and ask for some feedback. Maybe the first thing they’ll say is, “Well I wish you spoke up more in that meeting, Pete.” or “I wish you did this differently.” Then you can respond with, “You know I’m really glad that you talked about that, I felt really uncomfortable speaking up today, boss, because I don’t want to be wrong, but this is how I see it.” And I think then what you can do is you can understand from their perspective why they might be doing something (not even knowing it).

One of the things that I realized recently was being on my phone in a meeting was really distracting to other people. It wasn’t that they didn’t think I was listening, they knew I was tuned in, but I set a precedent. If I seem distracted, everybody else seemed distracted. They were more wondering, “hey, what’s on his phone?” then they were about whether I was paying attention or not. I think it’s super important to understand and see things through somebody else’s perspective. That’s why we do so much design thinking or human-centered design. Until you step into your customers shoes or your audience’s shoes, you’re only seeing the world through your eyes, and if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that our eyes are bias.

Getting rid of that bias (or at least reducing it to a certain perspective) is about asking that question and understanding not logically but emotionally, how are you making people feel? And more importantly, letting people know how they’re making you feel. More often times than not, people have no idea how their actions or behaviors are affecting you. If you take one thing away from this conversation, it’s that vulnerability is a power skill. A super skill. A skill that you can put forward but it starts with being a bit more curious before jumping to that conclusion.