June 3, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 2:6-7 (NRSV)
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In this time of history, when we’re dealing with a pandemic and other major challenges, leadership requires vulnerability. After all, we who lead in this day must take risks. There is no other way, no safe path. We must try things we haven’t tried before. We must acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. We must learn to be honest with our colleagues so that we might discover together the best ways to move forward in the face of uncertainty. We need to put ourselves, our success, and our reputation on the line. As we do, we will indeed live and lead vulnerably, like Jesus, who is there to help us.
In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion I will talk about the vulnerability of Jesus as a baby—and not just any baby, but one born into unusually risky circumstances. Today I’d like to reflect a bit more with you about the vulnerability of Jesus and its implications for our own life and leadership.
What does it mean to be vulnerable? The word “vulnerable” comes from the Latin word vulnus, which means “wound.” When we are vulnerable, we can be wounded physically or emotionally by external forces, systems, circumstances, or other people. We are vulnerable when we put ourselves out there beyond what is safe, familiar, and comfortable. We open ourselves up to the possibility of being wounded. Surely the infant Jesus could have been hurt in many ways if his parents had mistreated him. Ultimately, of course, the vulnerability of Jesus was seen most of all on the cross as he was literally “wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
Brené Brown, in her book Braving the Wilderness, defines vulnerability this way: It is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Brown is probably the world’s leading advocate of vulnerability through her writings, speaking, and especially her TED talk. So far, “The Power of Vulnerability” has been watched 48,089,280 times as the fourth most popular TED talk of all time. Brown demonstrates that vulnerability is essential if we seek to live whole, meaningful, and generative lives. We need to be open, to take risks, to exercise courage as we put ourselves on the line.
Leadership guru Patrick Lencioni claims that vulnerability is essential if we wish to lead productive teams. In The Advantage, he argues that building trust is foundational to leadership. And trust, according to Lencioni, is a response to vulnerability. “The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like ‘I screwed up,’ ‘I need help,’ ‘Your idea is better than mine,’ ‘I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,’ and even, ‘I’m sorry.’” Lencioni goes on to say, “At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and their fear, to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team.”
Jesus sacrificed his ego, and indeed his life, not just for the collective good of his team of disciples, but also for the good of the entire world. He risked everything in response to his conviction about what his Heavenly Father was calling him to do (Mark 14:32-42). He who began his earthly life vulnerably ended it in the same way; at first in a manger, at last on a cross.
I may not agree with everything Brené Brown and Patrick Lencioni say about vulnerability in life and leadership. I’m certainly not equating their insights with the example of Jesus. But I am struck by the fact that what Jesus models for us in birth, life, and death is being commended by such influential thought leaders in psychology and business. Even if we don’t buy all that Brown and Lencioni propose, we surely ought to follow their example by considering how the vulnerability of Jesus should inform how we live and lead. (By the way, in recent years, Harvard Business Review has featured articles with titles like, “Why CEOs Should Model Vulnerability,” “Expressing Your Vulnerability Makes You Stronger,” and “Vulnerability: The Defining Trait of Great Entrepreneurs.”)
In this time of history, when we’re dealing with a pandemic, racial injustice, and other major challenges, I can’t imagine leadership that is not vulnerable. After all, we who lead in this day must take risks. There is no other way, no safe path. We must put ourselves out in front where we might be attacked. We must try things we haven’t tried before. We must acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. We must learn to be honest with our colleagues so that we might discover together the best ways to move forward in the face of uncertainty. We need to put ourselves, our success, and our reputation on the line. As we do, we will indeed live and lead vulnerably, like Jesus, who is there to help us.
How do you respond to the ideas of Brené Brown and Patrick Lencioni? Are you intrigued? Hesitant? Persuaded? Unconvinced?
Surely there are times when vulnerability is wise and times when it is unwise. It’s not wise, for example, to be vulnerable by running out into the middle of a freeway. Nor is it wise to share your deep hurts with someone who will quickly use them to wound you further. So, how can we know when it’s right to be vulnerable and when it’s right to hold back?
As you reflect upon the vulnerability of Jesus, in what ways does his example inform your life and leadership? Where does it challenge or unsettle you?
Pray about how you might exercise wise vulnerability in your life and/or leadership. Follow the lead of the Spirit as God guides you in following the example of Jesus.
Gracious God, once again we are struck by the vulnerability of Jesus. Once again we are challenged to follow him is ways that make us uncomfortable. Once again we ask for your help in doing this.
Give us wisdom, Lord, about what vulnerability should look like in our lives. Teach us how to be appropriately vulnerable in the different contexts of our lives. Help us to abandon our pride and our fear, to sacrifice our egos not only for the good of our team, but also for the good of your kingdom. Teach us how to follow Jesus in his vulnerability, so that you might be honored and your work done through us. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Concern for the Poor (Luke 6:17-26; 16:19-31)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.