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The Vulnerable Board

The Vulnerable Board


It’s a three syllable word that, in the wilderness, is the difference between life and death. Here in civilization, belonging may be slightly less dire, but it still packs a pretty big wallop.  In other words, you may not live and die by your association with a local non-profit, but the sense of connection that comes with “belonging” to such a group may significantly contribute to the sense of “wholeheartedness” in your life.

Let me back up a bit and introduce you to Brené Brown. She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.

I was introduced to Brené Brown though a creativity workshop. Since then, I have shared this TEDtalks video of Brené countless times. Please watch it. Really. I mean it. Twenty minutes to a more authentic life is what I am asking you for.

But here’s my blog post question for today: with Brené’s video in mind, what kind of a Board are you building? Are you creating a sense of belonging around the table? Are you cultivating authenticity and opportunities for connections to happen? Brené talks about “excruciating vulnerability” being directly on the path towards a sense of connectedness among humans.  And yet, most not-for-profit professionals would laugh out loud if I told them that I was building a “vulnerable board” to fully support my cause.

According to Brené’s definition of vulnerability, the first step towards finding a sense of belonging is to “put yourself out there and be vulnerable.”  With that definition in mind, what kind of opportunities can you provide for Board members so that they experience this sense of connection?

Building Your Vulnerable Board

A truly connected board sees each other for their authentic strengths and limitations, and unites through a common sense of purpose. As staff members, we must lead the way by creating relationships around the table: let members speak their mind, allow time for each member to be “seen” by the their fellow Board members, make room for every voice in group discussions. This scary sense of vulnerability provides us humans with real opportunities to connect. (And if you think humans are not interested in vulnerability, think again – Brene’s video is at 4 million views and counting).

“They said they wanted my help but really, they never listened to me,”  is something people say all too often about their experiences on a not-for-profit board. If you don’t want to hear these words from your board members, make time in your board meetings for 15 minutes of “vulnerability.” Let your members tell you why they show up. All you have to do is listen. And yes, there will still be time for finances, audits, programming discussions and the like. But that sense of connectedness will make all the other board activities feel more “wholehearted and authentic.”

My challenge to you today: bring on the vulnerability, baby!