The surprising strength of vulnerability

For the last nearly 12 months I’ve been working as an Associate Executive Coach for top-end international coaching company The Preston Associates (TPA), in addition to managing my own coaching assignments for Proven Coaching. (This is my excuse for why I’ve been so poor at updating my blog!).

I’ve spent several months focusing on the growing coaching need amongst male leaders to raise their self-awareness of how ‘traditional male behaviours’ can impact performance of self and others in the workplace. This seems particularly timely in the light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the new spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace and the current debate around what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

But what is not widely discussed yet is the impact that traditional male conditioning and the ‘lad culture’ has on those men who feel obliged to wear a mask at work and act in a way that is fundamentally at odds to their own true values. This issue was highlighted initially by one of my colleagues from his own personal experience, but is backed up by growing commentaries on the ‘crisis in masculinity‘ the growth in mental health problems and suicide amongst young men – and our own TPA coaching experiences.

From an early age, men are taught to view vulnerability as a weakness. ‘Be strong’, ‘man up’ and ‘win at all costs’ are common phrases in society. Men quickly learn that to share or own up to difficult emotions will expose them, particularly in a tough business environment. Far better to ignore, deny or repress fears and anxieties and go it alone in a culture of rugged individualism.

These modern myths are turning up the heat on the pressure cooker. Many men and their organisations are unaware of this issue, the collateral damage it inflicts on others and the hurt being caused to men themselves.

My own coaching experience, backed by what little academic and anecdotal research is currently available, says that an unwillingness or inability to be vulnerable diminishes a male leader’s capability to respond effectively to situations they perceive as threatening to their ego or sense of self. The result can be chauvinistic behaviours that block high performance of self and others – and can lead to a spiral into mental health issues.

The key to unlocking this issue is to recognise the incredible strength and positivity of vulnerability. High performance and effective leadership requires interpersonal skills that can only be developed by being true to yourself and your values: e.g. self-awareness, connection, collaboration, compassion, empathy, creativity and innovation.

If you’re concerned about mental well-being at work and how to address traditional male behaviours in the workplace please get in touch.


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