Tag Archive for vulnerability

If You’re a Perfect Leader, You’re Not

borderline WorldTeams, groups, organizations, churches, clubs, families, homeschooling groups, etc, don’t need perfect leaders. They need real, human, vulnerable ones. They need leaders who have faults and talk openly about them. Faults, after all, are part of our inherent humanness.

If you tell me you don’t have any real faults or flaws I’m telling you that you’re either entirely delusional or extremely dishonest with yourself and/or others. Or both. Aren’t many other options.

Stop chuckling. That can actually end up really, really, really badly for all involved. Don’t believe me? Well, there’s always jokers like this popping up all over the place. And that’s just in one tiny little snippet of the religious world that I happen to be a bit more familiar with than others.

But it happens all over the place.

There are few things more frustrating than being on a team with someone who perceives themselves to be flawless, or at least darn close to it. You know they’re not, yet somehow, on some weird level, you find yourself feeling somehow compelled to try to be as well. The problem is that you can’t be that perfect person. You don’t even really want the pressure of being that person.

But they (make you think they) are perfect, and they’re where (you think) you want to end up. So you figure that that’s got to be the way to do it. Cover those faults. Don’t let ’em see you sweat. I mean, how can you expect them to respect and follow you if they see you make mistakes, after all? [for those of you less-versed in the classical language of smartassese, that’s what that was.] If you’re the boss, you’re supposed to have all the answers, right? Right?

When was the last time you openly discussed a shortcoming you have with…well…anyone?

Those on your team? In your group or department at work? Within your organization? With your — gasp — boss?

If you’re straining to remember the last time, it’s been far too long.

I’ve had occasion over the past few months to speak with my boss about a particular shortcoming of mine on a number of occasions. I’ll admit that I was terrified the first time I walked into his office to bring it up for the first time.

You see, with this weakness, as with many, I generally have played it pretty close to the vest. I mean, it’s not like we’re all running around with huge placards tied around our necks listing what we perceive to be our greatest faults. (Although now that I’m thinking about it, that could be a fascinating sociological and psychological experiment on a number of levels.)

They’re hard to talk about. You don’t wake up dying to talk about that sort of stuff.

But what’s happened is that there’s been an atmosphere created on our exec team where it’s OK to share faults and talk about them openly. It’s OK to be vulnerable. We’re human, after all.

The only way that happens, though, is if leaders understand they’re not perfect, are vulnerable themselves, and intentionally make it safe enough for their teammates to do the same. It becomes safe for them to become more appropriately human. Then the office continues to inch closer to being a habitat for humans.


20 Things Leaders Should Say More

speech-bubbleIt’s not always some big, flowery, masterfully delivered declaration that teams need to hear from their leaders. Often it’s the little things–small phrases or statements that can change the tone and feel of your workplace environment.

Teams and leaders who are embracing their humanness and therefore working toward building vulnerability-based trust will undoubtedly even sound different from teams and leaders who aren’t.

What might that sound like? Here are some things leaders should say more:

1. I was wrong.

2. You’re right.

3. I need your help.

4. Great job.

5. Thank you.

6. Of course I have time to talk. Come on in.

7. I’m sorry. That was my fault.

8. No worries. Happens to the best of us.

9. Let me connect you with So-and-So. He/She is uniquely gifted in [that area your teammate is interested in].

10. Help me see what I’m missing in this situation.

11. I’d like to take a quick second to recognize So-and-So for [insert cool thing–big or small–they’ve done here].

12. I’d love to know your thoughts.

13. You know what? I actually have no idea about that.

14. I know you can do it.

15. I know we can do it.

16. That’s definitely not a strength of mine.

17. I’m glad we have so many different opinions.

18. I’ve got your back.

19. No, the customer isn’t always right and doesn’t get to yell at you.

20. Yes, you’re the customer; but in this case I stand behind my employee and have to ask you to stop speaking to them that way.

What others can you think of?

Top Posts of 2012: 5 Things Trusting Teams Do

Foundational to a good team is a mutual vulnerability that results in real, meaningful trust. Teams that trust each other in this way are going to act vastly different than those that don’t. They won’t be corporate robots; they’ll be a group of humans working together to do amazing work. Over time, and as this sort of trust really begins to take root on the team, team members begin to act like they believe their teammates’ intentions are usually good and that there’s not really a reason to be careful, cautious, or political around the team.

Think about that last part. There’s not really a reason to be careful, cautious, or political around the team. Big whoop, you might say. BFD. So what? What does it really matter?

The atmosphere on a team that’s embraced being vulnerable together, trusts each other, cares about each other, and together cares deeply about the team and organization–that team is going to look different than many teams. Instead of being robotic team members that are just trying to make it through the day without feeling much of anything, they’re more human, passionate, collaborative, and optimistic.

For example:

1. Teammates will readily and regularly ask for and offer help. If people can get to the point where they’re vulnerable together, asking for or offering help becomes more commonplace and expected. I mean, why wouldn’t you ask for or offer help? You’re a group of imperfect humans trying to do great work together, and you each not only bring different weaknesses to the table, but also unique strengths. Trusting teams tap into those strengths together.

2. In general, folks will not assume that the others on the team are colluding against them in an Illuminati-like conspiracy meant to make their lives miserable or get them terminated. Sideways glances diminish. People aren’t constantly looking over their shoulder. There becomes less and less of a reason for folks to assume that teammates are up to no good.

3. It starts looking like MTV’s Real World, minus the hot tubs (bummer), bikinis (probably for the best), frat boy on frat boy violence (funny watching those Justin Beiber hairdos get all messed up), and inordinate amounts of liquor (I’m not judging, but that show turned kids into barely functional alcoholics). What I mean is that people decreasingly feel the need to put on a mask or facade. As a team begins to be truly human together, the impulse to hide our weaknesses and act like something we’re not slowly begins to dissipate.

4. Instead of hiding mistakes and shortcomings, teammates are open about them. I mean, if everyone on the team operates under the assumption that everyone else is human and flawed just like them, why wouldn’t you just be honest about the struggles you have? Of course you have struggles! You’re a human being, just like everyone else on the team. The team should be one of the safest places to be open about your faults, because on a team filled with vulnerable people, the impulse will be to rally around a struggling teammate rather than casting stones at them from afar.

5. People fix interpersonal stuff. Instead of letting it fester and turn into a years-long feud, teammates will humbly and openly speak with each other about interpersonal issues. They won’t let them build and build over time to the point where their department takes on a Hatfield-McCoy vibe.

A team like this–a team that cares enough about each other and the organization to be vulnerable with each other–is going to look and feel a lot different than one that refuses to be vulnerable and trusting.

So look around your team. Is this the sort of stuff you see? If it is, be encouraged. You’re probably headed in the right direction. If it’s not, you might want to consider going back to square one and working together on being vulnerable, open, and flawed together. Be human.