Recently, I’ve found myself talking a lot about vulnerability and what it takes to let down our masks and show up as our True Selves.
At the start of last week, I delivered three days of training for a DfE funded diverse leaders programme and shared with aspiring BAME school leaders keys lessons I have learnt about vulnerability and finding True Self. Then on Saturday, I delivered a workshop at the Coventry #WomenEd unconference on a similar theme.
My gender, my ethnicity, my experience of school leadership and coaching others, have taught me an incredible amount about vulnerability. In dealing with my own vulnerabilities, I have had to learn how to turn them into strengths. I have had to learn that we do so, when we turn our energy away from covering up our fears, worries and self- doubt and instead invest the same energy into how learning to overcome them, so that we show up as our True Selves.
The lessons, I have learnt may not be the same for you, but there may be some similarities. As you read through the lessons that I have learnt, ask yourself these three questions.
1. When have I covered up for fear of being seen?
2. How did my behaviour impact on the True vision that I have of myself?
3. How can I bring greater alignment to my inner and outer worlds?
Three Key Lessons on turning Vulnerability into strength
1. I learnt that vulnerability becomes a strength when you let go of ‘old’ beliefs
When speaking, I have been quite public about the fact that growing up as the youngest of three girls, in a single parent family, I had come to believe that ‘only the strong survive’. And for me that meant that meant shutting down all my emotional responses, particularly to hurt and pain and forever putting on a brave face.
My brave face, meant that for much of my childhood and for a huge chunk of my adult life, when difficulties came, no one could truly meet me at my point of need. The message I sent out (and always with a smile on my face) was, I am doing just fine!
Time, experience, and a more than a few tears have taught me that when we are able to recognise the limiting impact of old beliefs, we can create new, more aligned realities for ourselves.
When I let go of the belief that, ‘I had to do everything by myself and keep my emotions locked inside’ I became emotionally stronger. Because when we unburden ourselves of the weight of unexpressed emotions, we create greater/lighter connections with ourselves and those that we are in relationship with.
2. I learnt that vulnerability becomes a strength when you define how you will be seen.
Throughout most of my formative years, the message I was given (mostly, I am afraid, from my teachers) was that ‘As a young black girl from South London, you are never going to amount to much.’
Truth be known for a long time, I did daily battle with these negative projections. That daily battle meant employing a range of defence/coping mechanisms to protect myself from the hurt of racial stereotyping.
To prevent my defence mechanisms, weakening the image that I had of myself, I had to turn my energy inwards; not focus on other people’s attitudes, but my own. Once I did that and became clear about how I wished to be seen, I became less concerned or afraid of what others might think or say, and became more confident in my own voice and being me.
3. I learnt that vulnerability becomes a strength when you learn to ask for help
When I first became a Head, I looked at all the other Heads around me and firmly believed that no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost you had to soldier on no matter what.
I wasn’t aware that there was another option and that was, to ask for help. Well, that’s not right. My belief was rightly or wrongly that if I asked for help, it would either be a sign of weakness or it would be used against me.
I see many school leaders adopt this position, in today’s high stakes/high risks educational landscape it is understandable. However, it doesn’t mean that we should accept it as the norm. Too much damage is caused when we do.
We have to recognise that asking for help can be one of the bravest things a school leader to do. It takes courage, it takes bravery, it takes honesty and integrity, it can also lead to the path of greater personal and professional authenticity.
So…. the point is you have a choice!
You do not need to be in fear of your vulnerabilities. You do not need to live life as a lesser version of yourself, for fear of what others might think or say, if they really saw you.
Yes, the current education landscape, can at times feel harsh, brutal and a very unsafe place to show up as our True selves, but it is necessary. Our schools, our young people need to be led by leaders who understand, as in the words of American author Brene Brown, ‘You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.’
I know that this is hard. One of the hardest things for me as a Head teacher was finding the courage to ask for the help that I needed. What I needed back then was someone impartial who really understood the challenges I was experiencing. I needed someone with whom I could “drop the leadership mask” and talk openly and honestly about the issues, questions, doubts and feelings I was having in my role.
And it is the same today. If our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness amidst the growing complexity of the role, this form of support is not just helpful – it’s vital.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet school leaders remain woefully under-supported and as a result, many are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was in as a Head.
These calls provide a safe, confidential space for school leaders to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help overcome problems
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around how best to move forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!