The power of vulnerability


Up-close-and-personal chats with New Zealand’s leading visionary CEOs

By Kim Goodhart

The world is moving at a faster pace, forcing the disruption of industries and the future is unclear. CEOs have the unenviable job of leading their organisations into the unknown and face the inevitable challenge of having to learn as they go. Since failure is an inevitable part of learning, how do they cope with the fear of failure?

No child would learn to ride a skateboard if the fear of crashing into the sidewalk outweighed the vision of flying along the sidewalk. Children have an enviable ability to dream. To create a clear vision of what they want to achieve. To lead their people into the unknown CEOs must lock on to the vision of flying along the sidewalk to overcome the fear of crashing.

As such, the courage to fail is now a critical virtue of leadership. In the words of Robert F. Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly”.

In the first of a series of one-on-one close-up interviews that Real TV is doing with New Zealand’s leading CEOs, I talk to Southern Cross Health Society CEO Nick Astwick about the courage to fail and the benefits of this virtue.

As Nick says in the interview <watch it here>, failures taught him to not associate who he was too much with either his successes or his failures. He also learned to surround himself with black hat thinkers who would question him along the way.

Nick says that failures, while painful, gave him the self-awareness and resilience to lead. I believe that leaders like Nick not only accept their failures – they learn that their failures have made them stronger leaders and as such they embrace failure with a positivity that gives them the courage to be vulnerable in the face of fear.

It is this vulnerability that gives them the strength to lead their people into the unknown. Perhaps it is this vulnerability that also allows them to see the vision for what they want to achieve (is it the fear of failure that prevents so many people from knowing what they dream of?).

You could say that leaders are *anti-fragile. They are strengthened by the things that have gone wrong in their lives. Great leaders take the knocks in life and grow from them. This is what makes them stronger and gives them the humility to lead and ultimately to succeed. Without leaders who dream of how things can be, life would continue as it always has. It takes courage to lead people into the unknown and this is the power of vulnerability.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

*anti-fragile: the term comes from the book, ‘Things That Gain From Disorder’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

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