Why Being Bold Yet Vulnerable Will Take You to the Top

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It's a tricky balancing act, but by harnessing your vulnerability whilst simultaneously making bold decisions, your business can benefit hugely. By Sherisse Hawkins (Co-founder & CEO, Beneath The Ink)

The words “bold” and “vulnerable” don’t seem to even fit well together in the same sentence. They appear to contradict each other – this distinct contrast, even in terms of sounds and number of syllables, is clearly apparent.

But there are a lot of things about CEO-dom and entrepreneurship that are difficult to reconcile. Take for example the strange combination of being wildly optimistic and fanatically frugal. Or the moments where you are unbelievably excited and certain about pivoting your business model while, at the exact same time, utterly terrified.

Why is it that no one told me the tension between these extremes would be a huge part of the fun, challenge and energy that starting a company is all about?

It's Good to be Vulnerable...

In her amazing TED talk, Brene Brown explains why it is so important to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Ms. Brown shares examples of the positive change and power that being vulnerable brings. This concept is intriguing and enlightening. Can vulnerability really make us stronger?

… and Being Bold Pays Off

Bold is removing all the keys from a phone, prioritizing customer service over profits to drive intensely loyal patrons and constraining lines of communication to 140 characters.

Bold shifts customer behavior, values, and expectations.

I began to ponder the times our team chose to be bold yet vulnerable, and the positive outcomes that resulted from our purposefully and knowingly entering into this somewhat unnatural state.

Product Development – the Time is Now

You have to be bold to sell stuff, let alone new stuff, to new people, in a new market! But you also have to be vulnerable enough to hear and internalize what those that you are trying to sell to tell you.

If you listen, you start to hear suggestions on how to make the product better, how they plan to use it and what it is currently lacking in their view. Sometimes you’ll receive general statements and sometimes they will tell you exactly why they hate something – like the color #0080FF.

It's a vulnerable place to be when you ask for feedback, especially when you haven't proven yourself or your market, and when you are leading people into the unknown. The best option is to exploit that vulnerability.

The Best Ways to Harness Vulnerability

But what does exploiting vulnerability look like? Here are some simple guidelines:

  • Ask vs defend
  • Listen vs correct
  • Stress that you truly welcome their insights
  • And remember to say, “Negative feedback is great. It gives us tangible things we can fix.”

I was very fond of #0080FF, but our potential customers weren’t. It’s gone now.

Taking the Plunge

By comparison, you'll also be expected to be bold. It is as if the effort to be a bold thinker, risk taker and leader is effortless. We have begun to take these traits for granted almost to the point of being underappreciated.

Having a bold vision can be exhausting: explaining, persuading, engaging, sharing your vision with other people to whom it might as well be a ghost. But it’s a ghost you can see so very clearly, and one you know represents what will someday be real.

It is only by boldly describing the “ghost” you see, how and why you will make it real, and the ways it will impact the minds, hearts and wallets of your customers that you will be successful.

However, be warned: you shouldn’t be so bold as to obnoxiously spew your elevator pitch to everyone you meet in every social situation. No one wants to work with or buy from those people.

Equally, you can't be so vulnerable you take things personally, try to please everyone, lose focus on your vision or lack the strength and confidence to handle the intense pressure.

In the right proportions, being bold while being vulnerable counterbalance each other. They allow you to learn faster, adapt quicker and ultimately survive.

How have you used your vulnerability to your advantage in business?

Photo credit: Mila Drumeva via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Prior to founding Beneath the Ink, Sherisse Hawkins held a VP engineering position at Time Warner Cable. She has been recognized as Women of the Year in Technology by the Rocky Mountain chapter of WIC, is a Betsey Magness Leadership Fellow (Class XIV), and has served on the board of several non-profits organizations.