Dare to Be Vulnerable: Building Trust and Inspiring Teams

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brené Brown.

Vulnerability is a scary-sounding word. It makes you believe that you have no control over life and that there is no safe place where you can be because harm can come in your direction at any moment.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Vulnerability is a superpower that leaders can wield. By embracing vulnerability, you can actually be a strong leader.

Think about the courage and strength that it takes to acknowledge that you don’t know everything and ask for help, that you are scared of the future, or that maybe you are not as ready as you thought for your new role. All this takes courage. So, when you are vulnerable, you are courageous and strong. Someone who is not courageous and strong would not have the courage to acknowledge their vulnerability.

There are several myths when it comes to being vulnerable.

Myth 1: Vulnerability is a weakness. Traditionally, the workplace has been a “no-vulnerability” zone. It was deemed unacceptable to cry or discuss personal issues that were impacting one’s work. At work, people are expected to put on the all-business, nothing is wrong, professional face.

Talk about an environment that reeks of inauthenticity. When you are in an unauthentic environment, that also leads to dishonesty and distrust.

Myth 2: Oversharing is vulnerability. It’s okay to be vulnerable at work and say that you are going through something personal that will impact your work. But leave the gory details out. No one needs to hear that you are getting divorced because you cheated on your spouse. It is critical to have emotional intelligence, which will foster self-awareness so that you know what is okay to share and what is out of bounds.

Benefits of Vulnerable Leadership

Builds trust: Vulnerability is like a bad-tasting medicine that is good for you. Ultimately, we know that when used correctly, medicine will have health benefits for your body. Yes, being vulnerable can be quite daunting, but it is something that needs to be learned.

Being vulnerable can have the same effect on you as a leader. One of the benefits is trust. The more open, honest, and vulnerable you are as a leader, the more trust you will build with employees.

Employees do not want to work for leaders they do not trust. If employees don’t trust you, they will not come to you for help and guidance. When this happens, everyone suffers the consequences. Performance by the employee and the team will decrease, and company results, in general, will suffer as well.

On the other hand, an environment where trust abounds is one where employees feel free to be themselves. They will be willing to take calculated risks and develop ideas to help their organizations. This is a win-win for everyone.

Creates a deeper team: Another benefit of vulnerability is that the leader can surround themselves with people who have complementary strengths.

As a vulnerable leader, when you let your team know that you do not know everything and that you need help, that is when they are at their best. They will show up with the skills necessary to get the job done. That is why you hired them in the first place. You would be a one-person show if you knew everything as a leader. We need great teams around us to deliver the finest work possible.

Sparks Innovation: Innovation is the engine that drives growth. Running that engine is the fuel of creative ideas generated by employees. Only when the leader has driven the message that it is ok to make mistakes will employees feel comfortable and trust their leaders to share ideas that may or may not drive the expected results. Employees will need to be vulnerable, which can only happen when leaders are first vulnerable.

How to Practice Vulnerability

Small steps: As a leader, you can take small bites or steps to become vulnerable. How do you eat a whole elephant? One bite at a time. Just like anything else, it takes practice to be vulnerable and comfortable being vulnerable. Do it enough in bite-size chunks, and soon, you will be able to practice vulnerability as if it were second nature.

Set boundaries: Being vulnerable does not mean you will air out all your dirty laundry. There are still norms that need to be adhered to regarding vulnerability. If what you share can make someone uncomfortable or change their perception of you as a leader, it’s probably not something that you want to share. Remember that being vulnerable is being able to relate to others, not driving people away with your words.

In conclusion, vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength that transforms leadership. As leaders, let’s reflect on our willingness to embrace vulnerability, recognizing its power to build trust, deepen teams, and drive innovation. Together, let’s cultivate a culture of vulnerability that inspires courage and authenticity in the workplace.

This has been a guest post from Juan Cruz.

Juan has been in the medical device service for 25 years. He currently serves as the Director of Service Operations NA for Haemonetics. He also serves as a governing board director on the Adult and Teen Challenge USA board and an advisory board member on the Service Council board. 
You can find Juan on his blog and LinkedIn.
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