150th Anniversary, Local Stories

Kate Zimmer, Executive Director, Leadership Lancaster

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” — Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

When I originally set out to write this article, I was writing to encourage a workplace of the future built on the lessons I have learned as a leader in the last 17 months.

I have learned about the power of connection and the intimacy of knowing each other’s families and pets, knowing each other’s homes, and knowing each other’s casual wear, thanks to the strange beauty of Zoom. I have learned about the grace and empathy required to lead in the face of unmeasurable loss and grief. I have realized that our team members were and are experiencing deep and real trauma. I have learned that our worlds collapsing into one place, our kitchen tables becoming the site of homeschool and work deadlines and community and connection, is a challenge to lead from and lead through. Most importantly, I’ve learned over and over again about the power of vulnerability. I’ve learned how much I cannot do it all, how much I needed to be able to say to someone “I’m struggling”, and I have reaffirmed how important it was to create a space where others could say it to me.

I believe these all to be important lessons leaders should pull from as we move into the future. I believe we are our best selves, the best leaders, and build the strongest teams and community when we lead from a place of connection, of grace, of empathy, and of vulnerability.

The more I began to think about it though, the more it became clear what a privilege it actually is to be vulnerable, to not only have the space to be vulnerable myself but to also create room for others’ vulnerability.

All of our workplaces are different. The needs and skills required to function in a nonprofit such as mine compared to a bank or a manufacturing plant vary greatly. There was a point last year when my husband walked past my “home office” (kitchen) and overheard an emotional Zoom conversation. He later remarked to me “you know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard as many people cry during my entire banking career as I’ve heard while you’ve been home”. The cultures of our two industries are very different and I’m afforded the ability to encourage vulnerability much more in my sector.

But why? Why is vulnerability a privilege? Why is supporting the needs of our teams industry specific?

According to Brené Brown, vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”[1] and it has measurable benefits to organizations during time of crisis and upheaval but also as we build to a new future.

Jeff Polzer, a professor of organizational behavior at Harvard University, describes the power of vulnerability. “People tend to think of vulnerability in a touchy-feely way, but that’s not what’s happening,” he suggests. “It’s about sending a really clear signal that you have weaknesses, that you could use help. And if that behavior becomes a model for others, then you can set the insecurities aside and get to work, start to trust each other, and help each other.”[2]

The Forbes Communication Council tells us the 12 Benefits Of Embracing Vulnerability In Leadership  include driving trust, demonstrating strength of character, inspiring creativity, encouraging psychological safety, connecting through authenticity, and building stronger teams, among others. What organization wouldn’t benefit from even a handful of these examples?

More so, while these examples are specifically work and leadership related, I know my personal relationships are more meaningful when I embrace the power of vulnerability as well.

So, as we stand on the cusp of another year, a year filled still with uncertainty and aftershocks from all we’ve survived to this point, my greatest lesson is that of vulnerability, and my greatest hope is that vulnerability is not just a privilege of the few or industry specific. I hope we enter 2022 and beyond as our best selves, the best leaders, and build authentic, vulnerable teams and community. I hope we all have the privilege and share with others the “courage to show up, be seen, take risks, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from our failure, and lean into joy”. [3]

The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business community. Our goal is to produce content related to our community’s collective business history, diversity, equity, and inclusion and our community’s commitment to thinking ‘future forward’ among other topics. In the month of March, our content theme is Woman History Month – raising the voices and stories of our Women business owners and leaders. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine

[1] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

[2] Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets of highly successful groups.

[3] https://jiroyliderazgo.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/vulnerability-and-inspired-leadership/

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