Trust, vulnerability and buttons

Leadership remains our number one topic when companies reach out to us.  Dealing with change, adopting an agile way of working (or mindset), learning ‘how to be a great leader’ beginner courses… you name it.

And although the approaches may vary substantially, depending on what the specific situation calls for, one concept comes back time and again : trust

Do you get trust or do you give it ? 

Can I trust you ? This was an essential question for our ancestors of old.  They had no other option but to trust each other in order to catch a-preferably edible - wild beast and share the spoils more or less equally.  If you were going to rob your fellow humans of the choicest bits,  or if you were going to run and hide as soon as the slightest danger arose - you weren’t worthy of trust.

True, we no longer live in the savanna but the basic definition of trust hasn’t budged : you want to be able to count on your employees/colleagues to do what is expected from them and that they put the wellbeing of the team ahead of personal intrest.

Employees expect precisely the same of their management and that’s where things tend to go wrong. Many managers wonder in how far they can trust their team members but few wonder if they themselves are worthy of their team members' trust.

Trust pre-supposes vulnerability

Good leaders create a culture where a safe environment and trust go hand in hand.  In such a culture, there is room for vulnerability.  It’s a word that most organisations don’t enjoy hearing.  They have no problem with “responsibility”, “engagement”, “innovation” and even “connection”.  “Vulnerability” doesn’t belong in that list because it seems to make a link to “weakness”.  Which leader would be so stupid to admit that (s)he doesn’t know it all, or that (s)he can make mistakes or simply has area’s where (s)he isn’t great at ?

The thing is, you can’t build a relationship, you can’t start real innovation, or make a risky agreement or start a task with an uncertain ending if you don’t dare to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  In fact, daring to show your vulnerability is a sign of courage and of real leadership.

Vulnerable leaders are strong leaders

Leaders who aren’t afraid of vulnerability know their own pitfalls and limits.  They look for collaborators who can complement them in those area’s where they don’t excel.  They keep a critical eye on themselves and pay attention to what happens around them. They listen. They ask questions. They see the needs of others.

These leaders make sure to create a safe environment.  They won’t annihilate someone who makes a mistake.  They don’t tolerate gossip, finger-pointing and back-stabbing.

They dare to trust that good things can come out of uncertainty.  They will voice their doubts and ask others to take initiative.  They allow others to shine and help them to grow.

3 steps towards vulnerability based trust

We at Indra Partners believe tat creating trust based on vulnerability is something that you can learn.

Here are three effective ways that you can try out :

1. Involve your team to help you grow

At the end of our leadership workshops, we always make participants think on how they will involve their team members actively in their development.  We practice with them on how they will communicate with their team about what they have learned and where they can ask their team for help.

By sharing with your team how you want to develop and by inviting them to give feedback - especially when you don’t keep your promises - you make them partners in your development and you show them the trust that you have in them.

2. The button exercise.

We - and many participants with us - are a big fan of this exercise.

This is how it works : each team member receives a button  of a different shape/color.  You now name one competence or quality that you find important as a leader and describe it clearly. For instance : “ I give you enough freedom and support to make decisions autonomously when you need to solve a problem”.  You put your button in the middle.

Then, your team members lay down their own button on the table: if they fully agree with your statement, they put it on top of yours. If they do not fully agree, their button ends up a little further removed.  The less they agree with you, the further away the buttons goes.  This gives a good image of the perception of your team.  Don’t make the mistake to question why certain buttons are far removed from yours. Just ask : ‘What can I do to make sure that this button gets closer to the middle ?’.

By accepting that your team members don’t think of you as an exceptional leader in all possible respects,  and by asking what you can do to improve, you show both trust and vulnerability.

We’ve done this exercise multiple times and each time, the results were surprising.  Often, it allowed teams to engage in a dialogue about those things that - up to that point - seemed pretty taboo.

3. You ask questions

The third way  is a simple tip for the end-of-year discussions many of you will have around this time. A powerful question that is generous ad vulnerable at the same time :  “As your manager, in what way have I helped you or hindered you in your progress ? “

Now, you are really putting your neck on the line as a manager.  Don’t be thrown off if some team members seem to look surprised or even sceptical by this question.

DO something with the answer. If their answer is positive, ask what other area’s you can be helpful in the coming year. If it is negative, discuss what exactly you can do in the coming year. Show your concern, be humble and - again -  act on it.

These are just three examples we hope that can inspire you to create vulnerability based trust in your teams.

Would you like to know more about the importance of trust and vulnerability ?

Check out this TED-video : Brené Brown on "Vulnerability"


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