What If A Leader Shows Vulnerability?

A team’s willingness to be vulnerable usually begins with the leader.  The behaviors of the leader encourage or discourage vulnerability.  When trust is high, team members are more willing to be authentic and vulnerability because they feel safe.

Here are some observable ways vulnerability shows up in teams:

  • Team members are willing to take thoughtful risks without fearing the repercussions if they fail.
  • Team members ask each other for help when they don’t know what to do or are overwhelmed.
  • Team members openly express frustration or hurt and then sort through the issue together in a constructive discussion.

Being vulnerable can be described as being “out on a limb” or “a sitting duck” – it can be scary to let your guard down at work. If a team is low in trust, it can feel too risky to be vulnerable.  Without trust, people will play it safe, hide their need for help and make more mistakes.  Without trust, team members also hold back on their real feelings for fear of negative consequences, which can be damaging to long-term relationships.

What can team leaders do to increase trust and create a safe space for a team member to be more vulnerable?

1. Demonstrate your own vulnerability.

Openly share your own mistakes and failures and talk about what you learned to establish a learning culture.  Similarly, when the team has setbacks, pose questions about lessons learned to remove the negative stigma and demonstrate that there is no shame, only opportunities to improve and learn.

2. Coach early and often, without judgment.

Take an active interest in the team’s work.  With interest and curiosity, ask questions to better understand what they are doing and how it is going.  This will unearth on-going opportunities to coach and support the team members. The key is to avoid judging, shaming, or controlling. Instead, you are inviting team members into a safe and collaborative discussion where you both are learning from each other.

3. Encourage “fast failure”.

Simon Casuto of eLearning Mind writes that fast failure is about trying new things in the simplest form possible, so adjustments can be made without extra effort. The key is to pilot early and test often during the design and development phases, rather than wait until the final product is completely done and then evaluate. This way, the “failures” are small and easily resolved rather than catastrophic and difficult to fix.

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight, yet it can be destroyed overnight. Be mindful of the environment and approach you are taking, ensuring you create a safe environment where team members can be authentic, honest and forthright with you and their colleagues.  Not only will your team get better results, they will also bond and connect when trust is high.

About the Author:Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field, Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are highly productive and positive. Learn about her Better Teams Model and Team Assessment here.

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