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.