Being Vulnerable

Saying I am weak, takes courage

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 03 Jun 2021

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tennis player naomi osaka hitting a forehand in practice
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Being Vulnerable

Saying I am weak, takes courage

I am writing after an extraordinarily long time. I couldn’t get myself to…amidst the disturbing second wave of the pandemic in India. The losses of those so dear to me like my mentor and my best friend’s father felt too painful to recover from. But this post isn’t about the negativity, it’s about emerging from it.

With the worst hopefully behind us, I took to reading some of the more positive pieces of news. The most striking one in recent days that encouraged me to write, was the uplifting news of Naomi Osaka. The 23-years old tennis superstar has shocked the sports world by announcing that she will withdraw from this year’s French Open. It all started when she announced that she wouldn’t participate in any post-game press conferences. According to this emotionally intelligent athlete, these press conferences only kicked down the loser, at a time when s/he was already at a low. That made so much sense to me… Refreshingly!

However, the leaders of the world’s top tennis organisations pointed out to the Code of Conduct that she will be breaching by doing so, while in the same piece assuring that they were concerned about Osaka’s wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, the double standards were visible to more than just Osaka.

News like this stands out in our faces not because they are rocking the world of tennis alone, but also because they show that a new era of role models is emerging. Is this really an unveiling of the responsible celebrities, who care as much for their mental health as for their physical fitness? More importantly, is a section of the next generation finally finding their deep-seated vulnerability and courage, to stand up for what feels right to them, rather than cow down to legal arm twisting or social pressures? Athletes from even a decade older would push their boundaries and hurt themselves to show their invincibilities. What it did to their mental and emotional well-being was a question never asked. Who wants to look soft and mushy on the court, right?

Take it to the corporate and you will find the same parallels. No one wants to look emotionally vulnerable in a job, let alone talk about it. We continue to drag on our steely persona, to a point that we sometimes forget the inner voice that’s asking for help.

Osaka’s news comes as huge learning in emotional intelligence, vulnerability and courage for leaders today. As employees grapple with so much at a personal level, can we give them room to bring their vulnerable selves to work? Can we accept them when they say, “I’m not okay to do this right now” or, “I think I need to step back and take care of my mental well-being”? How do leaders role model this behaviour - by putting up their steely front or by accepting that they are not beyond shock and loss? How do corporate cultures support those who bring up their needs for mental help?

Vulnerability is the cornerstone of a brave and kind corporate culture, one that allows people to fight their battles, but also empathise when they can’t.

It takes courage to build such a culture - and Osaka’s news had given me hope that as the world of sports evolves to make way for a new form of strength, the corporate leaders will also explore the place of vulnerability and empathy in their businesses.