The Worst Advice I Ever Received

545800897I was reminded this week of misguided, dangerous feedback I was given two years ago in a work appraisal. It contained a toxic recipe for pain, anxiety, loneliness and the crushing of spirit. Never give this advice. Never take it. Here it is.

I gave an after dinner speech last week in the Hunter Valley wine district to a packed room of corporate marketing leaders. I went on a bit too long of course, loving the limelight after six weeks on the sidelines. In the bar afterwards, a senior event sponsor said to me: “Lots of nuggets in that speech. But the power of it was built around one thing: authenticity. That’s why it worked.”

Being ‘authentic’ means being genuine, credible, legitimate. It’s powerful stuff. Learning to have the courage to be more authentic is making a real difference for me. Here’s the biggest benefit of all.

It is only when we show vulnerability that we make real human connections.

Now- I am no poster child for authenticity. But I know I am making progress. It feels great.

The very best outcome from this blog, for example, has been the human connections it has helped forge. Many with strangers, some of whom I have now met. Many connections with friends and colleagues have deepened. Here’s why.

I have shown vulnerability and fragility in some of my writings. I’ve told the truth. Truth creates connection. When I meet Possums readers who I don’t know, they kind of look at me warmly. They feel they know me already. They recognise elements of themselves in me. We have empathy for each other. We are all fighting similar battles. I have become part of their ‘circle of trust,’ even though we have never met before. And with those I do know, that connection just goes a notch deeper.

So (drum roll…..), here’s the worst advice I ever received, dished up as part of a work review where feedback was given anonymously: “Do not show weakness in your blog writings. We as leaders must remain and be seen as strong at all times.”  Read that again. Ponder upon it. Join me in shaking your head in dismay.

What absolute rubbish. If we expose vulnerabilities, others do the same in return. Conversations become real. Counsel becomes genuinely meaningful. That’s when we can make a difference for each other, as leaders, or as part of a team. That’s how we create legacies to be proud of.

Rob Irving puts it this way: “When you shed light, the darkness loses its power.” 

I like that, a lot. By being open about what energises, and what is causing dis-ease, you gain immediate strength. I am privileged to have conversations where colleagues and friends share fears with me, and I do likewise with them. I know they leave those coffees refreshed, stronger, with a sense of release and clarity. I certainly do. Human connection. No bullshit, posturing, bravado and swagger. Just the truth, dammit. CMO Andy told me a few days ago: “Often it is those who wear the Superman underpants outside the suit who need the most help.” Something like that. Andy’s point- just because someone can appear strong, big, confident, secure does not mean that in fact they are not fighting very tough battles inside.

Have the courage in your professional and personal lives to show vulnerability. Share how you really feel when things are tough for you. Take full responsibility for where you are at and what you will do next, absolutely. But find confidants to share the truth with. Here’s one guaranteed outcome: the darkness loses its power. Almost immediately.

Works for me. It really does.

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41 Responses to The Worst Advice I Ever Received

  1. Ross Clennett April 7, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    Yep, Chris. That’s advice worth ignoring. Who wants to work in a company where everybody is trying to look good and look in control all the time? Sounds like Hollywood. Not my kind of place to work.

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 11:15 am #

      Well said Ross!

  2. Paul April 8, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    hey Chris,
    I love this post and its point and so you know, meeting you was the best outcome for me of reading your vulnerable blog – appreciated. Lunch is on me any time.

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Paul!

  3. Andrew April 8, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Aligned to that one great quote by the great Martin Luther King, Jr.

    ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Andrew. Apt!

  4. Chandra Armstrong April 8, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    Thank you for sharing your heart and wisdom, great post. Refreshing to see such honesty and authenticity.

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Chandra.

  5. Alta April 8, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    Thank you, Chris. Loved your post, today.Conversations become real and one becomes stronger. So underscores what Brene Brown, empathy researcher, says: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Alta- I think I got the line about vulnerability and human connections from Brene Brown. I always convince myself it was my brilliant original thought, but it rarely is!

  6. Daniel Chng April 8, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    To err is human. So when we reveal our weaknesses we are only being human. I love this article you wrote Chris. So to me being authentic, being real is letting your guard down and just be yourself. Cheers!

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks Daniel. Hope all is going well for you. Chris

  7. Richard de Crespigny April 8, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    Chris, bravo for this short and precise blog. Humility, modesty and a sense of vulnerability (“chronic unease”) are attributes that every effective leader needs to survive and be resilient in our high risk world. Jim Collins goes into these details when he discusses “Level 5 Leaders” in his book “Good to Great”.

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks Richard. Great to see you are still reading the blog. I was editing just last week the story I wrote about you and your support for handicapped children. (“Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.”) Hope all is well. Chris

  8. Souad Christina April 8, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    LOVE this.

    Has under tones of what can only be one of the best TED Talks ever – Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability.

    Don’t ever stop writing Chris – whatever the leaders of today think, by expressing your vulnerabilities in this blog, you are only inspiring more authentic leadership in the future. I for one absorb this content in a way which shapes my day to day actions and leadership in all aspects of my life.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks Souad. Appreciated. Chris

  9. Andrew Simon April 8, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Fully agree Chris. There is little point in denying our vunlerabilities when the people we lead actually see them plainly anyway!

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks Andrew. Chris

  10. Sue-Ella April 8, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    Another great blog Chris. I believe all your blogs demonstrate the true meaning of authenticity; being genuine, having credibility and showing a sense of vulnerability. The real stuff!

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks Sue-Ella. Appreciated. Chris

  11. Elaine Mostert April 8, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    It is refreshing to think of our leaders as being completely human. It makes me feel like leadership is more attainable.

  12. Craig s C April 8, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    It feels like this is the work you are supposed to do, and it makes me very proud of you!

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

      Thanks Craig. Chris

  13. stephen April 8, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

    In certain aspects of leadership there is a place for not showing weakness. Great military leaders on the battlefield need to be strong in adverse conditions to motivate and inspire people whose morale is low. Their leadership at being able to never stick their head down and always come up with a solution would instill confidence in their subordinates.

    So I don’t think it is the worst advice when it comes to leadership, but maybe not the most relevant for a blog.

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

      Thanks Stephen. I do agree with you. For military leaders, fine. But for a simple leader in business……. Chris

  14. Nico Abbruzzese April 8, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    Great post I find it very interesting from many prospective especially because there seems to be no discourse about vulnerability and the human side in business. Personally I believe exposing vulnerability it’s the only strenght that defines you. If we made it here we’re all pretty smart clearly, but what makes us fall is the inability to be recognized from the framework of our vulnerability: our modus operandi. So much depends on this in the way we operate, even the hill informed feedback comes from a place of fear and perception of inadequacy. Understanding vulnerability is like having and actual direct translator for people’s actions. So please let’s bring this discourse in business or institutions it would save the world a whole lot of mistakes. P.s. I’ve been trying to reach you but I guess I have old contacts for you form the Kineo days. Would you mind sending me your details thanks. Nico

    • Chris Savage April 9, 2015 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks Nico. Appreciate the perspective. You can get me on or on 61 404012266. Thanks. Chris

  15. Claire Russell April 8, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    Agree with you, and obviously so do a lot of others! Honesty is always the best policy. I’m surprised that a. your blog posts were commented on as part of your work review and b. someone, presumably also in the communications industry, was trying to influence your blog posts. Keep up the good work!

    • Chris Savage April 9, 2015 at 8:51 am #

      Thanks Claire!

  16. oscar April 9, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    I recently read over 50 Annual Reports for ASX companies.

    I would have loved to read the section “What we learned from our mistakes in the last 12 months?

    • Chris Savage April 9, 2015 at 8:51 am #

      Oscar- Brilliant idea. I will write a blog post on it!

  17. Sarah April 9, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    We are hosting a Festival for Peace in Canberra at the end of April. One of our organisers says she is often told when she tells people that she is working for peace, ‘you will never achieve this’ to which she replies, that she will die trying. My comment was that the dialogue needs to change and the positive affirmations need to begin. We all want peace, but too many say that it is unachievable. It is achievable, because we want it to be. Thanks for the article, let the light and the honesty in.

    • Chris Savage April 14, 2015 at 9:26 am #

      Thanks Sarah!

  18. David April 9, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    Now that is authenticity. To reiterate what all of the others have said to date, great post, very poignant and equally relevant in both our business and personal lives.
    It is also a great reminder that we need to be prepared to make mistakes and be vulnerable, but also be accepting of the mistakes that those around us are destined to make.

    Hope we can meet some day like some of your other followers and in the meantime I pass on your gems to my family and friends, so don’t stop blogging.

    In our blue collar environment this type of leadership is fairly unusual, but it is how we try and operate and on reflecting on your words has given me some guidance to be more vulnerable, one conversation at a time.

    Your quote from Rob Irving, reminded me of another I read recently in my travels and was something like, ” A small star can be obscured by a large dark cloud, but that will not last forever”. We can all be small stars if we choose to and follow some of your fine suggestions.

    • Chris Savage April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Thanks David. Appreciated the feedback and support. Always happy to catch up! Chris. pS like the star story too!

  19. Tam S April 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    Like this Chris…. Something I will share at work. Requires a big behaviour change. But so powerful.
    Hope you well. Love from the fridge x
    (Not seen Pritchard yet)

    • Chris Savage April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Tam- great to hear from you! Glad you have not bumped into Pritchard! Chris

  20. Amanda Canavan April 13, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    A brilliant and real post – one of your finest, Chris! Such a refreshing point of view. 🙂

    • Chris Savage April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Thanks Amanda!

  21. Shauna-Marie Wilson April 14, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

    My greatest area of vulnerability is the fear of, and real previous experience of, being defined by what I am personally, rather than by talent. The Ausyralian experience of others on this subject is definitely not encouraging, It leaves me distrustful of strangers who are playing a gatekeeper role in sourcing.

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