If you have read Brené Brown’s books or heard her words of wisdom based on two decades of academic study into courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, and over 400,000 data points, her new Netflix film ‘Call to Courage’ will remind you of this wonderful quote:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not our greatest weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
I’ve always believed that we have to bring our whole selves to work. Not just because we spend most of our lives at work but because it’s fundamental to bringing true value to each other and our organizations. Yet, when it comes to leadership, there is still a tension between being vulnerable while being seen to be a strong leader.
In today’s business environment where change is the only constant – and transformation, reinvention, and reskilling are topics on every leader’s mind as we manage the digital disruption happening all around us – vulnerability could not only be our greatest measure of courage but our greatest asset.
As we look to the future, realising the benefits of digital and AI is about scaling and moving from experimentation to true transformation. Making this shift is not easy as it’s as much about culture and mindset as it is about technology. It’s about encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship whilst building comfort with fast failure. And this is something IBM is certainly very familiar with.
Research underpinned by a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship has fuelled IBM’s restless reinvention – it has provided the headlights into the future so that we’re able to identify new sources of value, and increase speed to market. Thanks to IBM Research, we have generated the most patents of any company in the world every year for the last 25 years. Without IBM Research, the world wouldn’t have breakthroughs like laser eye surgery, the bar code, and the global airline reservation system.
Like any research-led organization, with these breakthroughs and patents came ideas and concepts that didn’t see commercial success. However, what matters is the fact that we’ve built a culture where employees had the courage to show up and take risks.
So how can you harness the power of vulnerability as a leader to drive the journey of discovery and enable true transformation?
Firstly, we all need to get comfortable with talking about what failure has taught us and how it has enabled future success – personally and professionally. This is particularly important in some markets across the Asia Pacific region where failure is not encouraged or openly spoken and where the ‘saving face’ mentality still prevails.
Secondly, as leaders we need to avoid being the ‘know it all’. It’s okay to not have all the answers. What’s not okay is not leading from the front in terms of continuous learning and displaying a growth mindset. No matter where we are on our career journey, we need to be always learning to be prepared for the next set of required skills. AI and machine learning is fundamentally going to change how we do business and, as leaders, we need to understand the challenges and opportunities.
Lastly, Brené talks about “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience…if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.” As leaders, we need to work hard to ensure that we celebrate successes – big and small – with our teams along the way; especially those that were hard earned.
So, my ‘Call to Courage’ for all of you is to share your perspectives and learnings on the power of vulnerability in building a culture of experimentation and innovation.