From the Vault: Three Lessons of Vulnerability


Originally posted June 18, 2013

More and more the nonprofit/voluntary sector, for a variety of reasons, is looking towards collaborative models as the dominant context for achieving missions and visions. Given this “collaborative buzz”, it would be naive of us to think that because we are in the business of citizen engagement and positive community change that we will get all collaborations right. Brene Brown’s popular TED talks “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame” speak very well to the nonprofit sector and how their lessons can help lay the groundwork for strong, impactful collaborations.

Three Lessons of Vulnerability:

1)      Vulnerability has two sides

On the negative side, vulnerability allows us to blame others and ourselves when things are uncomfortable. It helps us believe that things are never going to work out and the work we do will never make a difference. On the positive side being open and vulnerable is the pathway “to joy, creativity, belonging, and connection.” If we can, as a sector, walk into our collaborations open to where they may go then they might be more creative, bold, and impactful.

2)      Vulnerability has to be embraced

As Dr. Brown points out “connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives” and this rings true for the nonprofit sector. We are invested in connections. Nonprofit organizations work at fixing broken connections/relationships, improving connections and starting new connections. So, in the nonprofit sector, if we are in the business of connections and we are compelled to collaborate for sustainability and impact, then we must embrace vulnerability. When embraced, when viewed as not good or bad but necessary, being vulnerable is at the root of meaningful connections. In other words “in order to allow connection to happen we have to allow ourselves to be really seen”.

3)      Vulnerability is not weakness

Although many of us look at our own vulnerability as a display of weakness we also look at others being vulnerable as courageous and powerful.  As Dr. Brown says “vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change”. Positive vulnerability demonstrates to others around that table that your organizations is open to possibility and can be an authentic partner.

The main reason the sector is looking to collaboration as the new model of business is to be more innovative, more creative and affect positive change. We are more likely to achieve these desired outcomes if we accept that putting ourselves, and organizations, out there is the only way to move forward. The next time you are asked to collaborate, consider choosing to be vulnerable, embrace it and see it as a strength to bring to the table and an opportunity to inspire others to do the same.

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta