The Head’s Tale Confidence and Vulnerability
On Monday, October 31st, I read an article in the Times Colonist entitled: “Leadership is ‘confidence and vulnerability’.” I found this to be an interesting, but contradictory, combination of terms; in fact, my first reaction was to say these two terms cannot be used together! Since we often think someone who shows her vulnerability is weak, needy, insecure, powerless, or uncertain, and believe that a confident person exudes competence, positive self-esteem, fearlessness, and control, how could one be both? On further reflection, however, I wondered if you could put these two terms together to describe strong leaders as being “confidently vulnerable.” What would this seeming paradox look like? How do we help our girls realize that strength comes from knowing who you are, from not being afraid to share your weaknesses with others, and from feeling comfortable being your genuine self with others without fear of judgment?
The individual described in the article, Catherine Roome, was speaking to a group of women in technology reminding them that the greatest learning comes from failing – learning from mistakes – and actually admitting when you are wrong or don’t have the answer. The ability to acknowledge what you don’t know takes a certain level of courage. It also allows you to leverage the strengths of those around you and to create a sense of synergy where our overall strength comes from the collective. This process builds a sense of team and interdependence, drawing from everyone’s strengths while mitigating individual weaknesses that can impede success. In fact, vulnerability fuels stronger connections and deeper commitment towards a common purpose.
Strong leaders understand who they are, what they can contribute, and how they can make a difference in other people’s lives. A “confidently vulnerable” leader is someone who:
• Is not the keeper of all knowledge
• Acknowledges what she doesn’t know
• Leads with questions
• Willingly embraces the perspectives, opinions, and ideas of others
• Celebrates the success of the group by acknowledging the contributions of everyone
• Feels comfortable asking for help when the situation demands more than she can offer
• Does not take ownership of wins while passing off responsibility for failures.
At St. Margaret’s we’re committed to creating a culture of openness that allows students (and adults) to learn from mistakes – to figure out what went wrong and to seek out what knowledge or skills are needed to get it right next time. When you have made a mistake, being vulnerable and owning up makes you authentic and accountable. Combining the courage to self-disclose with the confidence to be yourself reinforces a growth mindset that encourages our girls to strive to be the best that they can be.
Being vulnerable allows us to be approachable, human, humble, and honest. It also can build trust and inspire others to have the courage to come forward when they too are struggling. As Brené Brown states in her book, “when individuals are able to be both confident and vulnerable – they know what they are, they know what they are not – they are then able to operate from interdependence which is when our greatest results occur.” She also states that you cannot experience empathy if you are not willing to feel and share your vulnerability with others.
Interestingly enough, in Macbeth, when Macduff discovers that his entire family has been killed, he refuses to simply seek revenge. Instead, he notes that along with his anger, he must also experience grief; he must “also feel it as a man” (4.3.224). Just as Brown notes, Macduff realizes that he needs to be confident about his emotions even in the midst of feeling overwhelming loss. He must allow himself the space to be a whole person, confident in his right to be vulnerable and self-possessed enough to share his emotions with those around him.
When our girls let other people see who they really are rather than choosing to share only those aspects they think people want to see, we know their self-esteem and self-confidence are strong. We are proud that they feel secure enough to be seen as confident, empathetic, and vulnerable human beings.
“Confidence doesn’t come when you have all the answers.
It comes when you are ready to face all the questions.”
“The boldest act of leadership is to be publicly vulnerable.”
Daring Greatly. Brené Brown. 2012.
Rising Strong. Brené Brown. 2015.
Macbeth. William Shakespeare. First performed in 1606.
(By the way, our school is closely connected to this play since the real St. Margaret married Malcolm III, a real historical figure who inhabits Shakespeare’s play.) – a special thank you to Ms. Pekter for this reference as she is currently teaching Macbeth to her grade12 students