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Volume 8

How vulnerability can give you a leadership edge

3 minute read

Hello Amazing!

I really believe that we can all benefit from practicing more vulnerability in all aspects of our lives. But there’s one domain that I’m extra interested in: vulnerability in leadership.

What does it mean?

For starters, I hope we can all agree that it’s potent stuff. We all look to leaders—both the formal leaders with rank and the informal leaders—to be role models. What they do, what they say, and especially how they do it, gets amplified. For better and for worse. Let’s explore why and how.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed when looking at vulnerability in leadership: The vulnerability sweet spot is a much narrower window. Under pressure, with lots of people around, things moving quickly, the space between ‘too soon’ and ‘too late’ is small. You can’t plan and rehearse too far in advance, then it just feels forced. But too raw and spontaneous can be confusing and uncomfortable for everyone. You really need to learn to recognize when the moment is just right and at the same time hit the right dosage.

Within that narrow sweet spot, you have an opportunity to do something for the benefit of the whole. Let me give you two examples:

1/ Setting a warm tone in the beginning of a meeting and opening up the space for others to bring more of themselves into the conversation. I’ve seen a leader who would enter every meeting telling a small story (not a 7 minute “small story” but literally 30-40 seconds) about some little mistake or issue she had that morning. Not in an angry or frustrated way, but in a light and fun and self deprecating way, laughing warmly at her own silliness. Nothing that required a follow up or risked derailing the meeting agenda in any way. But everyone’s shoulders came down and the meeting started from that tone. That was an example of frequent small doses that served a shared purpose: disarming tension in meetings, efficiently and reliably.

2/ On the grand scale, it can be an explicit ask. During the pandemic, I saw a CEO ask all employees to take a voluntary, temporary pay cut in order to preserve liquidity in a worst case scenario, avoiding immediate layoffs (with a promise to pay it back in case the worst case could be averted). That’s a pretty big ask to make, and there’s no guarantee that people will accept. It could have truly backfired. But it was so genuine—the whole company and everyone’s jobs were on the line—and you could feel how humbling it was to make that ask. It was also an appeal to think about the whole and not just oneself. That’s why it’s so powerful. The individual sacrifice serves a shared purpose, and everyone gets to feel that their actions are meaningful and contributing. The genuine ask allows the recipient to become part of a shared narrative and play an active role in the outcome.

It’s such a fine balance because if your vulnerable approach seems the least bit calculated, it will have the exact opposite effect. If it feels performative (“Just look at the tears in my eyes as proof of how touched I am by my own story”) or even competitive (“There is no way you can top my bravery now”) people will likely feel alienated, manipulated and in the worst cases emotionally violated. When it’s bad, it’s bad!

However, I’ve seen first hand how some leaders do it so well that they can melt away cynicism and fear within minutes.

Much love

Mathias

P.s. Do you want to develop your own courage to lean into your vulnerability in a way that is appropriate and effective and builds stronger relationships? From the way you show up on a Zoom call to what you share on LinkedIn.

I’m here to help you. Think Clearly coaching is a monthly subscription where you get daily support via chat, for example when you want to lean into vulnerability as a leader.

This is part 3 of 3.

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Volume 8

How do you find your own vulnerability sweet spot?

4 minute read

Hello Amazing!

In the previous post we looked at why vulnerability and openness is so important for social connection. But how do you actually share with vulnerability?

Remember, the goal is to share something in a way that builds human connection. If we only share our success and when we are on top, the projection can make others feel inferior and hold back with sharing what is actually going on for them. The relationship becomes superficial. But the solution isn’t to share all things right away, making it all completely raw and unfiltered. This isn’t vulnerability. It’s just oversharing, and it has all its own issues: in extreme cases it feels completely inappropriate, and the recipient can feel violated (and yes, I’ve done it too!). It can also be triggering for others, who may have had similar experiences.

Let’s take an example of something I’ve tried a few times now: getting laid off from a job. I’ve been laid off due to restructuring, where my work would be chunked up and given to freelancers. I’ve also been asked to think about a “transition plan” which was code for “you are not delivering to the expectation.” Technically speaking it was me who quit, but it wasn’t exactly voluntarily or on my own timeline.

On the day it happens and immediately after, it’s been so raw. I’ve been in a bit of a shock, not sure what was up and down. This isn’t a good time to share, except with our closest friends and family. The people who for better or worse will have to endure us in that state.

When it comes to sharing more widely, for example on social media, I find that a useful way to look at this, is not to think so much about how to share vulnerably, but to focus on when. Then the how will follow.

If you think of it as a timeline, there is a window of opportunity somewhere in between that initial shock and being back in full safety (You’ve seen those Instagram posts: “First day at my new job. So excited about all my smart new colleagues. Btw. the communal lunch is incredible.” ).

What we are looking for is the vulnerability sweet spot. It has to be recent enough that you are still affected by it. It still matters. But not so recent that it’s too raw. Let’s take a closer look.

To find out if you are sharing too late: if you are already ‘safe’ again (new job, new wife, etc.) and really just telling others what you went through, even if it was hell and absolutely terrible, it probably isn’t vulnerability that you are showing. It’s more likely showing off what you’ve overcome. There’s nothing in it for the recipient. If all they can do is give you a toast and say ‘wow, congratulations’, you are ‘proving’ not ‘sharing’. Yes, I’m guilty of this too.

So what’s too soon? Imagine that you share online what you are going through and someone leaves a comment. If it’s too raw, you are still feeling a need to be seen and feel validated, for example through supportive comments. Thus, when it turns out that the comment is not really about you and what you posted, it’s the other person sharing their own struggle, you get frustrated. I’ve been there too. In those moments, keep sharing with trusted friends, whom you can count on for that kind of support.

If, however, in this thought experiment, you feel grounded enough that you could appreciate others’ stories and experiences as a positive thing and not be counting on them to validate your experience, you’re in the sweet spot. When you do vulnerability well, people will reciprocate and share a bit of themselves. You are helping people be more vulnerable and share a bit more of themselves because they are following your example.

So it’s a ‘when’ to share more than a ‘how’. But how long time are we talking about? Days, weeks, months? It depends on what happened. And it depends on you!

The first time I got laid off, I didn’t tell the full story until 10 months later, where I felt I had enough solid ground under my feet, but still had it fresh enough in my memory to share the emotional part as well. Check out my annual report from 2016 and judge for yourself. Does it feel too early or too late or does it land somewhere in the sweet spot?

Last but not least: we can’t get it right every time. Many times we won’t know if we are too early or too late until it’s too late. Be patient with yourself. Know what you are aiming for and notice whenever you are a little bit off.

In the next issue we will take this theme of vulnerability one step further and look at how you can also use it as a leadership advantage.

Until then

Much love

Mathias

P.s. Do you want to develop your own courage to lean into your vulnerability in a way that is appropriate and effective and builds stronger relationships? From the way you show up on a Zoom call to what you share on LinkedIn.

I’m here to help you. Think Clearly coaching is a monthly subscription where you get daily support via chat, for example when you’re finding your vulnerability sweet spot..

This is part 2 of 3.

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Volume 8

“I thought you had it all figured out”

2 minute read

Hello Amazing!

This is the first of three newsletters diving into the topic of vulnerability and openness: why it matters so much, when to do it and how to use it effectively as a leader.

The story begins back in January (remember January?). My wife and I were getting ready to leave NYC, and everyone was asking “Do you have a job lined up?” I hated that question because the answer was ‘no’, and whenever I had to answer the question I felt exposed.

On January 20th, just 10 days before we left, I got offered a job at Implement Consulting Group. I was so happy. Finally I could put that pesky question to rest and update my LinkedIn: look at how successful I am! My God I loved that.

Fast forward through a pandemic, life crisis and being let go again from the job, I’ve been reaching out to old friends, sharing my struggle and asking for help.

One person wrote back: “I’m surprised to hear from you. I thought you had it all figured out.”

This comment hit me. I’ve been working intentionally with vulnerability and openness for more than nine years, so I thought I was as open as one could be. However, to him, and maybe others, I had still seemed unapproachable. He told me that he too had been struggling lately, something I probably wouldn’t have heard about if I hadn’t shared my own struggle first.

From being unapproachable it can quickly get worse. The more successful you appear, the more likely it is that others will feel inferior around you. That can turn into insecurity and even envy. All of which makes it harder to have a strong relationship. More success projection means less human connection.

The solution obviously isn’t to replace all your success stories with negative stories of misery and self pity. But what then? In the next issue, we will dive into some very tangible ways, you can practice sharing more vulnerability without falling into the trap of oversharing.

Until then

Much love

Mathias

P.s. Do you want to develop your own courage to lean into your vulnerability in a way that is appropriate and effective and builds stronger relationships? From the way you show up on a Zoom call to what you share on LinkedIn.

I’m here to help you. Think Clearly coaching is a monthly subscription where you get daily support via chat.

This is part 1 of 3.

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Volume 7

#7.06 Gift or debt?

Hello Amazing!
While I was on summer vacation with my wife and our kids, I would often take the kids in the morning and let my wife sleep in. We called this “the gift of sleep” and it’s a gift she really enjoys. However, there were days were I was so exhausted myself that I couldn’t really afford to give this gift. I needed sleep too. But I tried to give it anyway, and failing to be honest with myself, I didn’t realize that I would expect her to reciprocate. Suddenly the “gift” of sleep had become a debt. She owed me. Obviously this didn’t work well. Now, I try to remember that generosity is great, but that I shouldn’t give something if I can’t afford to really give it. Nobody wants a debt. Have you ever done this? Or been the recipient?
With much love

— Mathias

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Volume 7

#7.05 Shit and Diamonds

Hello Amazing!
In some ways it’s almost so obvious that it’s not worth saying: if you want high quality output you need a combination of creative output and a good editor who can filter the shit from the diamonds. Yet, because it feels so obvious I also tend to forget and I need to remind myself again and again. Today I realized that I hadn’t written a newsletter for more than two months. In my desire to improve the quality of my work I had stepped up my inner editor to a point where I couldn’t produce any output at all, and while I’m still interested in increasing quality and becoming a better editor, I’m not willing to do so at the cost of all output. So today I am sharing a first draft. Maybe it’s a diamond. Maybe it’s just shit. Either way: I wanted to do something.
Perhaps you need a reminder too?
With much love

— Mathias

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Volume 7

#7.04 Projecting into the future

Hello Amazing! I think that we humans are always trying to understand. We look around us and we try to figure out how the world works. Because if we understand it correctly, we might begin to predict (at least with some probability) what might happen in the future. Unfortunately, some of us are sometimes too quick to jump to conclusions which are only partially true. For example, I find that a linear understanding is particularly seductive. We think that learning happens in linear, additive manner (Economics 101, 201, 301 etc.), that they build their endurance for long-distance running linearly, that the path to enlightenment is a series of sequential steps. The risk is that we miss cyclical, seasonal and other non-linear patterns.
The image is further distorted if we also begin to conflate our ability to predict with an ability to control. If we set higher ‘targets’ (for sales, people growth, test scores, GDP..) we think that the flowers will grow faster. But that will be for another day.

With much love

— Mathias

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Volume 7

#7.03 Replaced by robots

Hello Amazing! How good do you feel you are in doing your job? Do you feel that you know what you are doing and how it all works or is it more messy? When it comes to automating work using Machine Learning it’s the tasks that have the most clearly defined (or definable) inputs and outputs that will be automated first. So if your job feels really really really messy, it’s probably because it’s harder to automate.

With much love

— Mathias

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Volume 7

#7.02 — Manage your ambition

Hello Amazing! In order to achieve anything, we have to set high standards for ourselves. However, for many of us this leads to a sense of inadequacy, because we are not able to meet those high standards. It’s tempting to lower our standards and in some situations, it might be the best thing, especially if it’s something that’s just not very important for us. But for the stuff that matters most, the real trick is to add time. To be patient and persistent. Sometimes radically so. For the most daunting quests I recommend thinking across multiple lifetimes.

With much love

— Mathias

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Volume 7

#7.01 — Stay or quit?

Hello Amazing! If you are in a relationship, a job, a marriage, a city or something else, and it doesn’t feel right, how do you know if it’s best to stay and try to fix it or to leave and go elsewhere? I think it’s easy to be seduced by the idea that something look good on paper (“the job pays well”, “the city is full of opportunity”). It’s also easy to look at something and only see what’s missing. What might be best is to look for the roots. The deep essentials. What do you think? Have you mistakenly left something that actually had roots? Or are you stuck in something that sounds great, but doesn’t have roots?

With much love

— Mathias

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Volume 6

#6.24 — Draw a frame and give ideas room to breathe

 

In celebrations of my friend Dev Aujla’s new book, 50 Ways to Get a Job.

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Volume 6

#6.23 — do you feel guilty if you don’t care enough?

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Volume 6

#6.22 An intimate relationship to one person

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Volume 6

#6.21 Learning new skills through projects

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Volume 6

#6.20 Really messy problems

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Volume 6

#6.19 — intangible portfolio

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Volume 6

#6.18 — inside and outside the box

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Volume 6

#6.17 — They have something you think you want

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Volume 6

#6.16 — Optimize the soul out of it

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Volume 6

#6.15 — Consulting and empathy

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Volume 6

#6.14 — life is like walking on a narrow bridge