Vulnerability, Respect and loyalty
This story is true. Names are excluded for the sake of privacy.
He couldn’t believe his ears. A senior member of the management team actually said they felt like they were drowning. In more than 15 years he’d never heard anything like it. Before this, the company line was, “We’ll do what we have to do to get the job done.”
He embraced that philosophy and had spent many Saturdays doing what needed to be done. He’d seen others stressed and frustrated with unrealistic workloads while they did what needed to be done. But now, three years into their new position, this senior manager publicly said they were drowning in the workload and they needed help. It was counter-cultural. It was a moment of unprecedented vulnerability.
It’s not that others hadn’t complained about the workload. They had. But no one had come close to making it personal, human. No one had ever suggested that things needed to change.
The dynamic of respect
Respect is earned through competence. We respect an athlete’s skill, a speaker’s ability to influence, or a leader’s calm during stress. On the other hand, honesty about limits and frailty also earns respect.
You might fear that vulnerability calls for pity or disrespect. Within some organizational cultures, you’d be right, it does. On the other hand authentic vulnerability calls for respect in organizations that value people and integrity. This type of respect always begins at the top. Followers seldom if ever have the courage to be vulnerable when their leaders aren’t.
More than respect, vulnerability elicits loyalty. When people are drowning others throw them a rope. In this case, doing what needs to be done becomes people centered not production oriented. Doing what needs to be done has meaning and satisfies the human need for fulfillment.
Courageous vulnerability leads to respect and loyalty.
Can leaders go too far with vulnerability?
What have leaders done to earn your respect?
“Doing what needs to be done” has intention. It might be from leader or followers. If it in one person centric then there is high possibility that intention is self centered and may not be acceptable by others. On the other hand, if is decided by people, there is high possibility that it is well intentioned and will lead to productivity. There are people who are tongue tied and keep silence overlooking wrongdoing. They withhold a lot of informations but feel safe in keeping quiet than to speak. But the fact is opposite. These people don’t take decision and this becomes their habits and over a period of time they are mixed in the culture. And the people who take decisions, speak to people in authoritative position. They speak, anticipate result and ready to take decision. These people are safe in either condition whether they have to change job or to remain there. But the people who do not speak, they suffer the worst. They might be more intelligent and honest too, but they do not have courage to take decision. So, honestly and intelligence do not work if we do not take decision in time.
I have seen people closing their eyes pretending not seeing unethical practices. They want to be liked by boss and think that boss will protect them. These people do not hold any value and are liability to the organization. People who hold values, speak up and take decisions. And they enjoy all success, achievement and happiness in personal and professional career.
Fabulous story, Dan. Strikes a chord with me. The essence of this story captures why leaders must win Hearts AND Minds.
Vulnerability should be met with empathy, perhaps this is where the loyalty stems from? Empathy – or as you put it – throwing a rope. Of course, there must be action too, but empathy starts the chain.
I really enjoyed this read. It resembles my very own leadership journey, in a company drowing in talent but stifled infinitely by their own success AND lack of leadership (a bizarre combination) – the ending was exceptional, after we embraced leadership.
The question of respect is great! Thanks for asking! Some of my favorite leadership lessons came from my Master Sergeant Shaffer:
http://bit.ly/9dlnPj is a story about ‘the talk’ – the ‘straighten up and fly right’ conversation. It seems I needed a lot of these throughout my career. He really gained my respect because he later called me ‘his friend’. That shocked me – it was so unexpected.
http://bit.ly/91QN1w is a story about how he taught me what responsibility and commitment really mean and how having the support of your family for your life’s work is some of the best treasure you can have.
I’m always grateful fro those lessons of respect, I hope you enjoy them too.
I had one story come to mind when I read this this morning, and others on this 2nd reading, but I’ll go with the first. Over a decade ago, our Executive Director was given a bonus and the senior leadership under this individual were given bonuses as well, which is turns out were not the same scale as the ED’s. (For example, if that person got 3%, we got 1%). The chair of our board, who was an exceptionally high level state official at the time, found out about the difference and made sure that everyone got the same percentage. Over ten years later, I am blown away by the fact that this individual, who had plenty on his plate, cared about the relatively obscure mid-level management at one small not for profit. He went on to be a US Senator (still is) and will ALWAYS have my respect and loyalty. I know he walks his talk.
Another great post thank you. Leadership is failing if the management team feels uncomfortable voicing genuine concerns about anything: work volume, working conditions, compensation etc. It is the leader’s responsibility to provide the comfort level necessary for staff members to step forward and speak without fear of being vulnerable or exposed. By doing so knowingly or unknowling that leader is also stifling all creativity and innovation, a vital component of growth in any organization. In my mind and I tell all of my staff this: there is no such thing as bad feedback. Failures are better and successes are worse knowing that the former leads to growth and improvement and the latter to possible stagnation and complacency if one is not attentive and on guard. At all levels of our organization we promote an open door policy on all issues and it emanates from the top. We have zero tolerance for inhibition of total transparency and we know we made a “cultural” mistake if one of our managers or leaders does not nurture an environment of freedom to have everyone contribute their thoughts on all operational and non-oerational issues. Our Board fully supports this climate of trust and engagement. It is fair to say that if any member of our organization feels uncomfortable and vulnerable coming forward then clearly leadership has failed and action needs to be taken. If we put our staff in a position of despair and possible failure truly the repercussions will be in our case clinic wide. As you point out having someone drown is not acceptable. We should be seeing the “bubbles” early on for immediate action to be taken via “ropes” “life rafts” or whatever it takes to prevent the implosion and better yet provide the setting for those that are not Mark Spitz to feel assured that quickly stating their shortcomings will not be viewed with disrespect or make them vulnerable to retribution.
While this topic is vulnerability, respect and loyalty, it is also about congruency.
Definitely, with the overlay of the US and state economies for the last couple of years and within the nature of non-profit organizations where I have worked in the past, authentic, professional and personal vulnerability is needed. This is a key EI leadership attribute.
Authentic vulnerability closely aligns with transparency and accountability which presents a congruency.
Consider your example Dan, if the senior member of the team had instead said, ‘yeah, things are bad, not a big deal, let’s get down to dealing with’…or the ‘buck up’ speech. Incongruent to what people and the organization is experiencing. Everyone is ‘drowning’ and the senior member is obliviously indicating that exercise and swimming is good for us, let’s go swim in a triathlon.
Authentic is a key point too, authentic vulnerability is a must. Faux vulnerability can be detected and dismissed in a heartbeat.
Such true vulnerability and congruence brings teams and organizations together to focus on getting through the tough time. The innate (?) ability to coalesce energy and resources in these challenging times has become a pre-requisite for competent and successful leadership.
Truly remarkable post, Dan. Thanks for sharing.
Leaders can’t really go too far with vulnerability per se – yet they can go too far with sharing highly private personal information (TMI) in the professional workplace.
Being an adult at work earns my respect
To answer to your questions:
1.Can leaders go too far with vulnerability?
-Yes depending on the situation – depending how vulnerability is used. Can be transformed in a positive way to involve more people from a team to come with their opinions and solutions to fix a problem for example.
2.What have leaders done to earn your respect?
– I remember I met a true leader , who work now in France (he left from Romania where I’m from). He earned my respect only after 2 meetings. The key to gain my respect was that he was honest interested to know me and to discover my professional qualities.
After a lot of discussions, smiling a he looked into my eyes and said : “You know everything starts from the heart. When you put feelings in what you do, being passionate , object oriented, having a good strategy with goals and ways to accomplish what you want -you and your team will win!” He trust me and he told me his professional goal.
Leaders can not do everything by themselves they need right people with different skills around them, but this is already another subject.
Great ideas you have Dan, thank you for giving me subjects to use my thoughts and to remember also nice stories.
Warm wishes ,
I have learned from all the replies above and kudos for writing great discussion posts.
As for your question .. can leaders take vulnerability too far? Oh yes. Unless the team is designed as a leaderless team, leaders who are too vulnerable can actually create the “bad” type of chaos that keeps team members swirling in confusion. I have seen a leader do this on purpose to see who emerges as “new leaders”. Yet when a leader shows constant vulnerability it may not meet the needs of team members who are great followers when there is a leader in place.
Pundits debate the value of “followers” — yet I do believe they have a place on teams.
Your other point about respect — I do agree that respect is built through competence and ALSO through:
a)How they treat others (which I call people skills competence)
b)Congruence (as Doc calls it) – walking the talk etc…
I do believe that the other thing leaders do to build respect is show courage! It can inspire many.
I will RT this post on Monday when more are on Twitter. Hope that others continue to jump into this conversation!
Food for thought, Kate.
A true leader can be BOTH vulnerable and retain lead. Vulnerability does not necessarily mean releasing the lead. Two COMPLETELY different functions.
I agree Tracy. Very much. A true leader knows how to balance both. There are those who do not know how to strike that balance and if they err too much on either side — the results are dicey.
As true with most extremes. Well said, Kate. All the best.
You said, “A senior member of the management team actually said they felt like they were drowning.”.
Is the guy speaking for himself or based on collective feedback on how the others felt.
This is the crux of the matter. Vulnerability and it’s relativity to respect and loyalty would not be important or significant if there was “humility” in the leadership.
“What need to be done” should be from a team based decision. Building ownership and accountability to the workload is critical to what happens when things start to fall apart. Then, vulnerability does not have to become a one person “leaders” problem, right?.
Why must leadership operate under a “we versus they” relationship. If we all pull out stick together and pull the load as a team, can’t we not get ahead, despite the odds?.
I worked where the drowning feeling has been the elephant in the room and still no senior leaders would acknowledge it, eventually most of us left for sake of our sanity. I wonder sometimes if they ever figured it out or if they just keep hiring new people, burning them out, and sending them on their way.
“What have leaders done to earn your respect?”
1.I met on my “professional journey” a lot of leaders which gain my respect.
First they respect all member of our team, secondly they put integrity in their work, then they were focused to help and to bring the best from each member of our team (not making accusations without understanding first a situation). They worked with quality in their time, right decision, cooperation win-win thinking. Encouragement of team, of each member , good communication and honest (a lot of sweet words only to gain something from others).
2.”Can leaders go too far with vulnerability?”-I do not know to answer to this question.
all the best,
Sorry, I meant -honest = NOT a lot of sweet words only to gain something from others.
Sweet words and appreciation is valuable if is honest. This we may discover from behavior of each one of us.
thanks for sharing this, and for having the opportunity to express my believes.