If you want to be successful in your relationships, and even in business, then be vulnerable.
I know, that advice goes against the stereotype of the cold, calculating, and devious businessman clawing his way up the corporate ladder to the pinnacle of power. Heck, we’re told that the ranks of executives are full of psychopaths. Ultimately, we don’t often equate success with vulnerability.
But there is evidence that vulnerability is indeed a path to true leadership and success. Have you ever heard the expression “It’s better to be loved than feared?” Though fear can indeed be used to gain power, inspiring love among those you lead is more sustainable.
Inevitably, those who lead through fear will find their subordinates rebelling in some way, whether through resignation, decreased performance, or even direct opposition. Leaders who display their humanity through vulnerability create loyalty that reinforces itself in a self-sustaining positive feedback loop.
Defining Interpersonal Vulnerability
Before we go any further, we need to define what we mean when we use the term “vulnerable. When we talk about vulnerability in the context of personality, we’re not talking about susceptibility to attack or some other form of “weakness.” We’re NOT talking about the inability to defend oneself.
Rather, we are talking about “interpersonal vulnerability.” This is a willingness to be open, the freedom to show our emotions, and the acceptance of the emotions of others as valid. Vulnerability is the active desire to engage in the exchange of emotions, rather than eternally keeping up our guard in empty displays of machismo and supposed toughness.
Vulnerability is the natural companion of empathy. These behaviors are both vital to emotional intelligence, and they work in concert: we must remain aware of the plight of others, and be willing to share our struggles with others. This is a dynamic process that drives tolerance and understanding.
Vulnerability is Accessibility
Another way to put it would be accessibility. Those leaders who make themselves accessible, especially when it comes to emotions, garner the admiration and respect of their followers much more easily.
And what is a hero if not a leader? Heroes blaze trails. They are often the first to forge into new territory. Unfortunately, in our current age of chronic mistrust, having faith in the goodwill of others can be considered a heroic step into the unknown.
People are much more likely to follow in your footsteps if you march in new directions with empathy, vulnerability, and a positive attitude.
If you go through life showing your humanity in the form of vulnerability, you keep your “common touch.” People will more readily relate to you. When people relate to you, they want to help you. This means increased opportunity: when people like you, and you show you like them back, they want to do things for you.
The Difference Between Tough and Strong
Toxic masculine dogma tells men not to be vulnerable in any way. It tells us we need to be the “tough” rugged individual that needs no outside help. We are taught to be intimidating at all times, in order to discourage attack.
The irony is, when we act tough, we actually increase the potential for others to attack us. When we are inaccessible, we make other people nervous, resentful, and angry. Angry people feel the urge to attack, whether it’s physically, emotionally, or through indirect attacks on reputation.
In other words, toughness actually makes you weak.
The better alternative is to be strong. Being strong means you are secure in yourself, your abilities and talents, and your ability to succeed. To be strong, you must cultivate a secure sense of self. This cultivation comes in the form of honest self-awareness, and the belief that other people are worthy of your respect, vulnerability, and empathy.
In addition, strength makes both you and others feel secure. Strong people can defend themselves while still being open to the world and people around us.
Strong men don’t worry about the agendas of others towards them. When you are secure in yourself, there is no need to scapegoat others for your problems. Rather than complain about how “the world is against you,” focus that energy on finding solutions and being creative in your search for ways to overcome opposition and obstacles.
If you approach the world openly (i.e., with vulnerability), you will make people want to support you, rather than oppose you. True, there may still be others that resent you or seek to hinder you because of their jealousy or other issues. But thanks to your openness, you will also find people who are on your side to balance out the ill intentions of your detractors.
Make Your Ideas and Beliefs Vulnerable to Healthy Doubt
Part of interpersonal vulnerability is the need to make your beliefs vulnerable so that you can be open to new ideas. This is the essence of the growth mindset: your beliefs need to be vulnerable to healthy self-doubt. Not the negative type of self-doubt that undermines your confidence, but rather the doubt that keeps you from stagnating when a belief may be holding you back.
This doesn’t mean you change your beliefs every time you get new information. It means being willing to consider new beliefs and ideas rather than dismissing them outright if they don’t align with your current worldview. It means keeping your mind flexible.
Being vulnerable to the ideas of others can keep you from falling into cynicism. When you no longer see incoming ideas with immediate rejection and suspicion, you become less likely to stagnate in the echo chamber of calcified beliefs.
Find True Strength Through Vulnerability
Interpersonal vulnerability ultimately makes you more adaptable to situations you encounter in the world. When you give yourself the freedom to evolve, you move away from being tough and brittle like old iron toward being flexible and strong like supple bamboo.
It is strong to admit you don’t know something, to admit you’re wrong when you are indeed wrong. It is strong to admit you need help. All of these things are taboo for the tough guy. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the fragile egos of self-suppressing “tough guys” break under the smallest slight or perceived insult.
Heroic men know that sheltering one’s mind, and heart from the world does us, and everyone around us, a huge disservice. It is through connection with other people that we grow, and avoid becoming warped by isolation.
Heroes approach the world bravely, armed with healthy open-minded skepticism and prudent caution. It’s good to be strong, but not so tough that we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable and, therefore, human. Showing emotion from a place of self-aware strength is the goal. If you have self-confidence, even the worst rejection won’t stop you, and even the direst of circumstances can be overcome.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project.
If you liked this post, please share it and help spread the word about the everyday heroism movement! If you don’t already follow Live The Hero, please subscribe! When you do, you’ll get the free Live The Hero manifesto, program primer, and 30-day guide! You’ll also be notified of future exclusive content and the latest updates.