What I’ve Learned About Vulnerability

by | May 20, 2019

Last week, Western Bulldogs footballer Tom Boyd retired from AFL football citing physical and mental health issues. He is 23 years old.

Just two years ago, Tom, a former number 1 draft selection, was close to the best player on the ground in the Western Bulldogs’ Grand Final victory, as the club broke it’s 62 year Premiership drought, the longest in the AFL.

His coach, Luke Beveridge, struggled to compose himself as he spoke about Tom.

“When you reflect on Tom’s career, there are lots of emotions,” Beveridge said.

“At the end of 2016, we thought the footy world was Tom’s oyster. We didn’t see the black dog creep up on him and at that time we weren’t really aware that he had struggles historically and so it is sad because of what could have been in his footy career. But since then he has had some enormous struggles.”

On Friday, as part of an event for a wonderful organisation Sport and Life Training (SALT), I was asked to interview two Premiership coaches, Alastair Clarkson (Hawthorn) and Damien Hardwick (Richmond). Both spoke openly about their own emotional challenges, and those of friends, family and of course, the young men they coach.

They quickly and comfortably went into a space, that until recently, would never have been a no-go zone for leaders in the ultra-competitive and unforgiving world of elite sport.

This is a place, I now go to regularly when speaking to leaders, as I reflect upon my own personal challenges as a leader in the game I love, but has given me the best and worst of moments over more than three decades.

Unfortunately, and perhaps with some regret, I did not go into this space, my darkness, while I carried with me the title of CEO of an AFL club.

When I speak with leaders as part of the work I now do, with my only responsibility being to my family and myself and not a professional football club, people will speak of my preparedness to show this vulnerability.

Because I get to speak about it often, it is perhaps less about vulnerability, but I’d like to think it remains generous.

So what have I learned about vulnerability?

Firstly, it is part of who we are, our essence, and to try and be invulnerable, is to try and be something or somebody that we are not.

Secondly, to try and control it, you are deluding yourself, pretending to be someone who can deal with the challenges of life, so many of which are out of our control, in a way that is not human.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, by not showing vulnerability, you are making yourself unavailable to be helped by those who can, and are willing, to support you, share your burden, be your friend.

One of my favourite quotes is from the author David Whyte, who heavily informs my thoughts on personal growth:

“If your eyes are tired, the world looks tired also”.
Nothing tires your eyes more than suppressing your vulnerability. The antidote is personal compassion, and the bravery and generosity this requires then builds the resilience necessary to lead.

To do otherwise, is simply, not worth the risk.

I always enjoy the opportunity to talk all things culture and high-performance, and the development of leaders to achieve it.

Here are three ways to start the ball rolling:

  • I teach and coach an integrated leadership performance system utilising sophisticated learning models and systems garnered from elite team sport, ideal for leaders who are committed learners, who understand the responsibility of leadership. To learn more, please arrange your FOC 30-minute leadership telephone consult to discuss your personal, team or organisational challenges or aspirations, please use this link.
  • Participate in our next one-day Leadership Masterclass which I personally facilitate. It is a sophisticated, intimate and practical leadership intensive for aspirational leaders, both current and emerging. To learn more, and to register, please use this link.
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You can also contact me at cameron@designCEO.com.au and let me know how you think we can work together.

Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder

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