Vulnerability Takes Courage

Over the past few years I’ve been so focused on my own leadership journey – keeping fit and sharp, leading my side of the business – that I neglected to focus on what’s happening to the dynamics within my first team, my fellow Executives.

It was only after the sudden resignation of our CEO and a leadership change that I became acutely aware of the destruction a first team can cause amongst itself and the business at large if the team isn’t aligned – rowing in the same direction as it were. As I reflect I’ve asked myself the question: “How can a team, made up of highly talented, passionate individuals all specialized in the field they represent, have no answers when times got tough and innovation ceased, despite the desperate call for innovation by our leader?”

In fact our CEO became so frustrated the year prior to his resignation that he started demanding innovation, and he wanted it now!  The louder his demand became, the less we seemed to heed his call and the slower we moved forward as an organization.

So why is it then that a team of highly talented individuals, representing a powerful brand, do not innovate or even worse, do not move the company forward? Isn’t this what they are required to do? What corrupts a team or breeds a dysfunctional culture of politics?

After reading Patrick Lencioni’s book on Dysfunctional teams I discovered the principle that the foundation for effective teams is TRUST. Lencioni discerns two types of trust:  predictive trust and vulnerability based trust. We tend to confuse these two types of trust in the workplace.

Predictive trust is when you know and have been working with a colleague long enough to know what to expect from him. While this kind of trust is useful, it’s not fundamental in creating great team dynamics. The moment you’re able to tell a colleague “I’m bad at this”, “I was wrong” or “You’ve done a terrific job”; the moment you’re willing to be this vulnerable without fearing your colleague might abuse the situation; that’s when you’ve got the trust you need. This kind of trust is the foundation on which effective teams are built, that spurs creativity and innovation, builds dynamics and produces satisfying results.

Contrary to what’s often cited in job descriptions, teamwork is neither a virtue nor a skill.

Teamwork is a choice that each team member makes.

If trust is lacking in a team, the members will choose —either consciously or unconsciously— not to work (well) together.

As I reflect on why we as a team were not sufficiently vulnerable over the past few years I realize we live in a culture where making yourself vulnerable – exposing your fears and uncertainties, taking emotional risks – is considered a form of weakness, and something most of us want to run away from. Even worse, admitting to mistakes has got many people into some serious trouble. But research reveals the hugely positive outcomes that emerge from stepping into the arena of vulnerability. Brene Brown in her book entitled Daring Greatly says: “It is precisely when we expose ourselves – perhaps in a relationship or at work – that we have experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.  Being vulnerable will transform the way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead.”

I’ve also spent time pondering if leadership can prevent or discourage a team from being vulnerable, particularly the behavior of the leader or CEO.

 LoveI suggest leadership starts with a choice of our will. As a leader we choose how we want to behave. We choose to let our egos rule our arrogance, or we choose to love the people we lead, and when we choose to love – to extend ourselves for others – we will be required to be patient, kind, humble, respectful, selfless, forgiving, honest and committed. These behaviors will require us to serve and sacrifice for others.

Patience is about showing self-control. Kindness is about giving attention, appreciation and encouragement, actively listening, and praising people in a sincere way.  Humility is about being authentic without pretense or arrogance. Respectfulness is about treating others as important people. Selflessness is about meeting the needs of others, putting others legitimate needs before your own. Forgiveness is about giving up resentment when wronged. Honesty is about being free from deception, clarifying your expectation of people and holding people accountable, and commitment is about sticking to your choices.

I believe it’s only when a leader demonstrates these behaviors that he or she will encourage and enable a culture where an individual or team is able to be vulnerable, thus building a trusting foundation without which a team will never become powerful or successful.

So imagine for a moment if the CEO rants and raves in meetings, never appreciates the things the team is doing or delivering, is caught up in his or her own importance, tries to do everything himself, never puts others legitimate needs first, holds resentment towards team members who have made mistakes, is deceptive to suit his agenda and is constantly changing direction. Can you see how some or all of these behaviors – opposite to the ones I describe above – will prevent an individual or a team to ever be vulnerable with the CEO, let alone their fellow colleagues?

It would therefore seem that not only is it hard for us as individuals to choose to be vulnerable with our fellow colleagues or our families for that matter, but if the leader doesn’t choose the right path and create the right culture or love, then I suspect it’s almost impossible for a team to choose vulnerability based trust over self-survival.

Theodore Roosevelt in his 1910 speech said this:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So in summary I would much rather be working in a team where vulnerability based trust is the norm and people in the team dare greatly in an effort to move the business forward rather than for their own self gain, instead of in a team fraught with politics and self-preservation. This type of team is dependent on the members of the team choosing to build their foundation on vulnerability based trust and the leader choosing to love the people, rather than stoke his or her own ego. Without both in play the team is unlikely to be effective or achieve greatness.


This article was featured in the

The Workplace





Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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