Perspective: It’s Okay To Be Vulnerable – Dr. Angie Enoka

By Dr. Angie Enoka

I never thought I would cry in a leadership programme. Tears had nothing to do with me being a fa’afafine (transgender woman) pouring my life story out to strangers. Nor about me being Samoan, a child of the late 70s, a casual Catholic, fully vaccinated or my ability to cope with the Tū Mau Mana Moana programme. A programme that resource Pacific leaders in the public service to take their leadership to the next level.

We had an exercise about connection. You pick someone in the group that you have a connection with and speak about that connection. Like an acute sounding board, parts of my brain echo what others feel. I internally register what I am going through in my home life and at work. I fear vulnerability. Nothing terrifies me more than a lack of control. But it is about connecting to the pause, reflecting and plugging myself back into my connected self. I let it flow.

To have the courage to be vulnerable I let it rise. There was no need to dive into it. It was a feel flow. No filter. Everyone was listening in anticipation of my shield and armour being dropped. Part of my system needs to restore. I didn’t zone out. I was overwhelmed.

My natural instinct was keeping those walls high. I couldn’t defend or deny my emotions. I broke down. Awhi was embraced. I breathed it all in. I hooked into my digestion; a feeding place that nourishes honesty. But I was conscious that sharing my vulnerability could be perceived as a sign of weakness. I was wrong.

Vulnerability touched a nerve and elevated trust immediately. It didn’t transcend into being weak or submissive. It feed my courage, grounded with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. I opened up. I shared my vulnerability. Authenticity slowly creeping in and hugging the root of human connection. Emotions were high. It finally took me to a peaceful place. Hugs and love started to flow. High tides were calmed with support and honest feelings. I felt respected and honoured.

It took a tremendous amount of vulnerability for me to speak freely. The Tū Mau Mana Moana programme allowed me to locate the source wound. It taught me that it’s okay to feel, to allow myself to break, embrace the entanglements. To feel the flaws, mess and cracks and only through vulnerability can a connection be breached. To remind us that at a professional level we upkeep a certain profile and image in tangled nets of confidence, competence and authority. Yet we disclose our vulnerability behind closed doors.

As a leader, the concept of vulnerability affects how we think and lead. We are programmed to observe each other’s actions so we can more appropriately interact, emphasise or assert our boundaries. We are wired to read each other’s expressions. For me, I was willing to be vulnerable, to stay true to my emotions and what’s flowing through to my head to my heart to my gut. It opened spaces and plugs me into a place of resonance. I vicariously felt the elevation.

The Tū Mau Mana Moana programme asked us to bring all of ourselves, our hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears and insecurities. I’ve never regretted choosing to be vulnerable and authentic with other participants in the programme. I’ve had the courage to speak up and share things that have concerned me or were quite tricky to navigate. Rather than facing condemnation, the participants aligned their head, heart and gut exhaling manaakitanga while I inhale aroha. Lots of it. I realise this is the space I needed to be in at this moment in time.

Being vulnerable creates a way for leaders to let others into their space. As an inspiring CEO (as I hope to be one day) it’s important to remember that people want to see imperfection. They want to see vulnerability so they can smell trust. When they smell trust, they have a taste of confidence. That taste allows the courage for you to step out of your comfort zone and accept vulnerability. While this may feel uncomfortable, as it did for me, the benefits are worth it. Connections were strengthened and I am no longer terrified with the idea of feeling vulnerable.

Dr Angie Enoka is part of the 24 Pacific senior public service selected to be part of the inaugural Tū Mau Mana Moana Leadership programme by Leadership NZ in collaboration with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, designed to meet the needs and aspirations of Pacific leaders in the public sector.

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Image credit: Dr. Angie Enoka