Solution Saturday – 10 Ways to Build Vulnerability into Culture
Faking drains, but vulnerability ignites.
I often encouraged audiences to embrace the power of vulnerability. During the Q&A at a recent presentation one participant asked how to build vulnerability into his organization.
The five functions of leadership from, “The Leadership Challenge,” by Kouzes and Posner, came to mind.
- Model the way.
- Inspire shared vision.
- Challenge the process.
- Enable others to act.
- Encourage the heart.
If there’s ever a place for leaders to model the way it’s vulnerability. When leaders aren’t vulnerable, everyone wears a mask.
Encourage vulnerability by practicing vulnerability.
5 benefits of vulnerability:
- Energy. Self-protective leaders spend their energy maintaining image. It’s draining. Vulnerability enables leaders to spend their energy on energizing others.
- Connection. Courage to be seen gives others courage to connect. Vulnerability is an open door for those who wish to connect.
- Teamwork. Protective silos block teamwork. Vulnerability breaks silos.
- Engagement. People dare to engage when they dare to be themselves.
- Transparency. Strong relationships require transparency.
10 ways to build vulnerability into organizational culture:
- Extend trust. Trust is given, not earned. The most vulnerable thing a leader does is extend trust.
- Practice optimistic transparency. Don’t pretend things are easy when they’re challenging. People won’t trust you if they think you’re faking.
- Reject ridicule.
- Listen with empathy. When you feel compassion, let it out. Leadership empathy fuels momentum. Don’t use empathy to validate failure or lack of effort.
- Speak from your heart. Organizations are filled with talking heads. Leaders of influence speak from the heart.
- Honor constructive dissent. Reject whining.
- Welcome new ideas and learn from mistakes.
- Share what you’re learning. Expose personal ignorance. Say:
- I never thought of that.
- I’m learning…
- I’m reading…
- Give credit.
- Live by shared values. The fence around safe playgrounds is built of shared values. Call out public violations of shared values.
How might leaders build vulnerability into organizational culture?
What are the benefits/dangers of vulnerability?
The risk of vulnerability is that people exploit that vulnerability to strike and gain maximum benefit for themselves. The leader has to be prepared to say “I practiced vulnerability, it cost us a fortune, I’ve got to make you all redundant and the shareholders want my head on a pike.”
Thanks Mitch. The bravest thing leaders do is be vulnerable. I hope that doesn’t mean foolish. Glad you jumped in.
Dan, it’s worth keeping in mind that out in the big world, not everyone is as honest and has the same integrity as we do. To some people, a person who shows vulnerability is opening themselves up to be attacked, taken advantage of or exploited. The concept of vulnerability as a good thing is relatively modern, the idea of never giving a sucker an even break is as old as the hills.
To build vulnerability into an organizational culture, I would also say it’s important to make it safe for people to express their feelings without getting fired, or cast out. Protect them from retaliation. And listen to them, really listen. Maybe do something to show them you care and value their openness. Ensure all are treated with dignity and respect because everyone is worthy. Lastly, celebrate differences & put people in positions where they can use their gifts so that they can be elevated based on their authenticity…Then at the end of the day, vulnerability will be a byproduct.
Thanks Dan. 🙂
Thanks Annie. Your comment really drives home how relational vulnerability is. It’s all about people and the way we treat each other. Thanks for your insights.
Trust, transparency, empathy and speaking from heart are real treasures to make organisational culture. Presence of these treasure ensure powerful culture and absence of thiese, ensure sick culture.
Powerful culture create good impact on people, enterprises and society. People love to work in such culture. They share healthy relations, make organization unique and outperform. When culture is sick, people suffocate in working. They do not make healthy relations and hence it affect performance.
One concept of vulnerability is acceptance. Organisation should create a culture based on trust where people come forward to accept their failure. Accepting failure is the sign of authenticity. When this happens, organisation will bound to grow.
Terrific topic! However, I would have to disagree with you a little on some aspects of this one when you state “Extend trust. Trust is given, not earned. The most vulnerable thing a leader does is extend trust”. I can surely understand the premise and where you are trying to go, but I feel that it is not exactly correct. Trust is always earned.
According to Webster, “trust is a belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc” Therefore, in order for us to rely on someone, we must have confidence in them. The vulnerability comes in as we “test” others to see if their intentions are worthy of earning our trust.
We extend trust based on the successful interlude of experience with a person or entity. Contrary to your statement and those shared by many, we merely offer opportunities to test reliability. Once a person or entity has shown that they are reliable in their words and actions do we grant trust.
We base our window of vulnerability on our personal experiences. In other words, we only allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the extent that we are willing to accept the consequences based on our experiences. You know “once bitten, twice shy”. So, this brings us back around to vulnerability and incorporating it into our organizational culture.
People need to feel safe in order to extend their level of vulnerability and you hit a home-run with how we do that within our organizations. We need to create a culture that supports the elements of leadership. This means, actually living the elements of leadership and not just throwing terms around because they are the hottest business terms of the day. Remember,
the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you’re saying.'”
Thank you for creating Leadership Freak! I’m a Literacy Coach in an elementary school and I look forward receiving your posts in my inbox each day and I share them with my principal and other coaches and many of them have subscribed! Keep the good ideas and thoughts coming…and thanks again!
Wow Cathy. Thanks for the pick-me-up! It’s a pleasure to be of service.
Do you think that displaying vulnerability is as valuable to a woman as to a man? I am frequently the only woman at a meeting or on a project, and I think people usually view me as vulnerable until proven otherwise. When I was younger, I made a conscious effort not to show vulnerability (now I am old and knowledgeable enough that people assuming vulnerability do so at their peril). I think I understand the point you are trying to make (that people respond to authenticity) but wonder if “vulnerability” is really the right word.
I agree with your point about trust – I get better work from people when I tell them that I trust them and do not micro-manage.
Dan, I love this post. A wonderful colleague helped me see the perception of perfection in a leader creates distance in relationships. And relationships in leadership are (almost) everything. So showing ones vulnerability invites safety and the ability to acknowledge failure and thus, learning – so one can fail forward. It’s almost magic. And on trust: I love assuming it is safe to trust from the get go – it seems to ignite and energize. In this way of thinking….trust can only be lost – as you have it from the start. I recently met an amazing person who assumes love…figuring we were all put on this earth to love and be loved. With him, you don’t have to earn it. And it was an amazing thing to witness – as he is surrounded in an abundance of love, the likes of which I have never seen before. It was such a lesson in life. And leadership – to meet him.
Thanks. As always, you inspire.
Dan great post and fully support the belief that vulnerability is a major factor in earning trust (see Lencioni ) . I lead at national level on well being for a blue light service and our research highlights the pressures of a culture that isn’t always comfortable with the notion. For me to display vulnerability one needs to have a well developed level of self awareness in order to effectively manage the impact on others. My experience is that opening up is hugely powerful in some situations and very damaging in others. One post has eluded to gender issues which I still see, being too open if your people are not prepared can actually damage trust because they simply are not ready – one has to lay out the ground for this powerful leadership attribute.
Before leaders disclose they need to assess how it will land and surely this is just a legitimate empathic step to take? I see people who are uncomfortable with disclosure , because the cultural norm has not yet shifted , resisting it and actually losing trust in their leaders.
I recently presented on my own well being/ resilience challenges at national conference and decided to disclose some very personal experiences.
The impact has been significant , supporting not only the well being agenda but cultural shift to demonstrate ‘it’s ok to not to be ok’. Someone put a quote out to me last week ‘I asked for workers and they sent me human beings’ . Love that