On Being Vulnerable – having the courage to show up

A few days ago a leader whom I have been coaching and mentoring for several years sent me an email about his concern for a long time friend and seasoned leader about to quit his job with no place to go.

He wrote: (Used with permission without personal references.)

I received an email from a close friend who is planning to resign with no place to go.  Actually I think he has done a pretty good job.  People have been pretty critical, at least according to his perspective.  I had suggested to him earlier the idea of a 360 so that he would be able to discern between one or two vocal people and a consensus.  He confessed that the process is just too threatening.

And then he reflected more broadly on the network of leaders he knows.

My peers seem to be embracing retirement with a great sense of relief when I think that some of them would have had some good years left in them if they could have worked through the issues with which they were confronted.  I feel like they are almost reaching the finish line with a sense of relief rather than a sense of satisfaction.

I responded that making himself vulnerable in a threatening context is the best thing his friend could do.  What does he have to lose?   Every leader I have worked with has confirmed that while threatening at first, a well-done 360 improves morale for the leader and his/her associates.

A 360 multi-rater feedback assessment is a tool used in leadership coaching where a third party or coach interviews selected ‘raters’ – subordinates, peers and overseers – with agreed upon questions about the leader’s performance. The interviews and the report are confidential.

I didn’t know about executive coaching and formal mentoring until my early 60’s.   It was then in the final years of my institutional leadership assignment that I employed a coach to conduct my 360. While I wish I had done this much earlier I’m sure glad I found a coach and mentor when I did.

One of my colleagues was shocked when I requested that he provide feedback about my leadership to a third party.   He asked, “Why do you want to do that?” And then commented, “I sure wouldn’t want to know what people think about me.”

In her books, TED Talks and NPR On Being interview with Krista Tippett, Brené Brown defines vulnerability as courage, the ‘willingness to show up’ and be seen as we are.   Too often she says, we have a vulnerability allergy, thinking of it as weakness, being hurt, or being taken advantage of.   However, she claims that in her 11,000 interviews she could not find a single example of courage that was not born of vulnerability.

In my personal and coaching experience I have found that having the courage to be vulnerable and to seek feedback encourages others to face their own vulnerabilities and show up with confidence.

In 1786 Robert Burns wrote the poem “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church. The poem’s theme is contained in the final verse:

“And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!”


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2 Responses to On Being Vulnerable – having the courage to show up

  1. Gene Gabbard says:

    In leadership 360s are powerful and important tools. I recently had an experience on the board of directors of a large company owned by a even larger international company. The owners were questioning the leadership of the CEO and wondering if a change should to be made. I convinced the owners to bring in a third party to do an evaluation of the top six corporate officers based on a 360 and other tools. The 360 results settled the issue very quickly. Not only was the CEO competent, he was outstanding, and not one of the other officers wanted to work for anyone other that the current CEO. And not one of the other officers were ready to step up to the CEO role. The evaluation results were then used to create a customized training plan to fill gaps in the capabilities of the other officers.

  2. Carl Summer says:

    Tom, thanks again for another thought provoking post. Part of the requirements for the 72 hours I did at Fuller for my Doctor of Ministry was a 360 multi-rater feedback assessment. Naturally it is threatening but it is also very helpful. As mentioned in your post a person is able to discern between one or two vocal people and a consensus. That is very helpful. One cricket can sound like a thousand crickets at night. And all leaders go through “night” times in their leadership assignments.

    Furthermore, all of us have strengths as well as blind spots and also areas we need to work on and improve in. Knowing all of those areas gives us the bigger picture – the 360. I have found in working with church leaders for almost 50+ years many of them do not know what they have going for them. They are normally doing many things right that they are not even aware of because no one has given them positive feedback. That is one of the advantages of a 360. Ken Blanchard states “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

    The friend’s friend said the people had been pretty critical, at least according to his friend’s perspective. Being affirmed in the areas of your strength is a great encouragement and a breath of fresh air when critics are breathing down your neck. Is it not still true that God is committed to the spiritual success of every Christian and promises that we can be more than conquerors through Him!

    God bless you Tom as you continue to lead by serving!

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