by Dr. Kate Siner Francis

A concept that is new to many people is the idea of leading with internal strength and not external strength. When you are learning to dance, you learn that, to make a powerful turn, you need to use the inside muscle of your legs, not the outside part of your body. Most people turn with the outside and it throws them off-balance. I like to call this leading with inner strength "leading with vulnerability".

Leading with vulnerability means I do not make myself bigger to lead. I actually have the strength and self-awareness and am able to show my faults and weaknesses -- as well as my strengths -- in any group I am leading. This takes a tremendous amount of strength. I have to know I can take care of myself regardless of the response of the group I am working with. I think this helps create more respect and authenticity within the group.

What leading with vulnerability means is that I am willing to talk about the parts of my experience that are less than perfect, but are essential to the overall process of the group. I am able to do this in a way that does not ask for other people to take care of me. This is very important -- some people use disclosure to get other people to take care of them. This is usually not helpful. It is very important to have clean motives, and do your own work in the area of self-awareness, before attempting to add in this part.

A good first step for leading with vulnerability is to look at your own hidden motives. If you find yourself getting defensive in a group, ask yourself, "What am I worried about exposing?" Make a point of working this out with a therapist or mentor until it no longer has the charge. Then see if there might be ways to use this to help the group.

Leading with vulnerability can elicit very strong responses for the people who witness it. It challenges some people on a very deep level. It challenges them to think about what their own limitations are about being vulnerable. Sometimes, seeing vulnerability encourages people to attack. They do not see the strength in the vulnerability, instead believing the vulnerability comes from a true weakness instead of strength beyond what they have experienced. Because of a lack of awareness of their own power issues, they attack. That makes it challenging to test this new skill without being tested ourselves.