Here’s what you rarely hear leaders admit: We doubt ourselves, especially when we are betrayed or face hostile opposition. We doubt ourselves when things are not going well, results are lacking, and when we face new challenges that we have never faced before. There are times we don’t have the answers. It is in these times we need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is to admit that we need help. It’s admitting we are an incomplete broken person and leader. But you don’t hear leaders talk that way. There’s a stupid “rule” out there that says leaders must present a facade of strength that is impervious to weakness. The rule says that leaders never admit failure.

A few years ago I hit one of those seasons when I began to doubt myself. I was facing strong opposition. Our growth, energy, passion and vision was flat. How would I respond? Shame? Fear? Quit? Fight? I did all of these to some extent. But what got me through that season was a better and harder choice. I chose to be vulnerable! The key to being able to move through the feeling stuck and doubt was a willingness to move past shame for the lack of “success” and be vulnerable to admit that I needed help. All leaders, at times, need help from a counselor, mentor, peer or other wise godly people.

During that time I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. She says we all have the formula “I’m not ___ enough.” inside our heads. You fill in the blank. We are not smart enough, creative enough, energetic or passionate enough, young enough, old enough, etc. We live in fear and doubt that we don’t have or can’t do what others expect of us. All leaders at times ask: “Do I have what it takes?” We all have a fear that lurks under the surface that we’ll be found coming up short. And if you come up short as a leader, we might hear “Shame on you!” So we choose to hide our fear rather than be vulnerable, open, transparent and honest with ourselves and others.

There is a hidden cost to shame. We learn to try and numb the pain, fear and doubt that shame (I’m not enough) creates. We manage our life so it won’t be too disappointing. We try to control others, life and the risks. Our shame often not only keeps us from taking risks, but at the same time we kill the real life that God has in store for us. We don’t lead ourselves and our organization to take the adventures God wants us to take. We don’t live by faith, but by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We learn to manage our lives rather than really trust the living God who is able to do more than we can imagine or think.

I choose to be vulnerable as I share my struggles and weaknesses in conversations, meetings, messages, in my small group and whenever I need it or others need it. Leadership requires being vulnerable to engage and risk and be all in. It’s about doing what needs to be done at the moment for the good of those we serve. You cannot lead well without being vulnerable. We choose to enter into risk and uncertainty knowing that some of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be exposed and even used against us. And that is what courage is. For centuries soldiers have taught us this truth – courage is just going into battle… long before it is about winning the battle. What’s the “battle” you need to step into?

Maybe the best church leader of all time is the Apostle Paul. He wrote a very vulnerable letter we call 2 Corinthians. He was being attacked but he chooses to lean into vulnerability. He wrote; 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 – NIV). So, before the very people who are looking to exploit Paul’s weaknesses; he chooses to admit his weakness. Wow! When we are vulnerable we embrace our weakness to allow God to show up. So make the life changing decision to stop denying your weakness, hiding in shame and fearing vulnerability. Lean into God and walk by faith not sight. That’s how great leaders like Paul lead.

In observing really good leaders, one of the traits that is almost always present is great self-awareness. Here’s why self-awareness is important in leadership: We need to continually become aware of ourselves so that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt others and damage our ability to lead well. The fact is we all have blind spots and a blind spot can damage our influence and hurt those we are trying to lead.

Years ago my mentor told me he was going to go to counseling. I asked him what problem or challenge he was facing. He said he didn’t know. I was confused and kept pressing him what the “issue” was. He said he didn’t know of anything that was wrong. But it was what he didn’t know that he was concerned about. He went to counseling to discover his blind spots.

Good self-awareness allows us to have an accurate view of ourselves. Why is this important and valuable in leadership? As leaders we have influence in the lives of people – that’s what leadership is. Who we are affects how we lead. And all leaders are sinners. All leaders are flawed. All leaders are broken in some way. All leaders have strengths which should be maximized and weaknesses, that if unchecked, can trip them up and hurt those he or she is leading. Self-awareness is essential if we are going to be able to understand ourselves, which affects how well we interact and serve those we are leading. Leaders who are poor at self-awareness hurt people and don’t even know it. Without good self-awareness, we won’t be able to grow and lead better.

Here’s where we start: You have to want to be more self-aware. It doesn’t just happen. I want to be the best leader I can. I don’t want to hurt the people I lead. We have to really look for clues from others that might be telling us there is something not quite right. You have to choose to develop a self-awareness antenna. Frankly, few leaders get past this point. They don’t want to know their flaws, weaknesses, blind spots or the things hiding in the shadows.

We almost never become more aware on our own. We need others to give us feedback. But it isn’t enough to ask for feedback. We actually have to create a culture or an environment where others know we welcome feedback. Folks need to know we really do want to know ourselves better and that we will act on the feedback given to us. So when we ask for feedback, we can’t become defensive or in any way punish the person giving us feedback. Want to become aware of your blind spots or weaknesses? Ask! Others will see things long before you will. Over the years I’ve learned that I can even learn things in poorly delivered feedback. Even “bad” feedback likely has a kernel of truth in it.

Most of our blind spots are connected to our past. We bury stuff. We cover over the pain. We are good at the denial project. There is stuff that lurks in the shadow that we are not fully aware of. The “shadow” is most dangerous to our personhood and leadership. The past and things that are in the shadow has a way of living in the present, especially without good self-awareness. Past events and our conclusions about those past events become triggers in our present and we as well as those we lead are surprised by what shows up or erupts. We almost always need help, often professional help, to discover and unpack the stuff in the shadows.

There’s a another aspect to self-awareness. We all sin and there are things we are more likely to be tempted by. No one is exempt from powerful temptations. Good self-awareness notices when the conditions in or around us are forming where we might be more vulnerable to temptation. Things like tiredness, certain toxic personalities, or various kinds of stressors might make us more likely to give into temptation and sin. Self-awareness learns to recognize the danger zones so we can make more positive choices.

How do you start? Spend some honest time with God asking him to prepare your heart to be open to feedback. Then ask some trusted friends, other than your spouse, to give you feedback. Pick a specific area or let it be general. Start on surface level or go deeper. This is invaluable to living well and leading well. The more self-aware we become, the more God can shape and mold us to be more like Jesus and lead like Jesus.