If you haven’t got on the Vulnerability train yet, you’re stuck in the station. Brené Brown’s TED talk and subsequent books have been blazing a trail for leaders for close to ten years now. Meanwhile, Patrick Lencioni stirred the pot even earlier with The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and taught us that Trust is the foundation of cohesive teams and vulnerability is the key to building trust.
Another clarion voice more recent in the conversation about culture is Daniel Coyle. His book, The Culture Code, is a treasure trove of insights and tips about leading people and organizations. He also shares his thoughts in his blog and it was there that I caught a glimpse of vulnerability in a way I hadn’t quite seen before. Being vulnerable is the key to people sharing accurate information.
Let that settle. For me, I first thought, “Wait, isn’t being vulnerable really about creating trust with each other?” And of course it is. It’s also about believing ourselves enough to share information or ideas that could make us look bad… It’s connected to creating and demonstrating safety in the team. But Daniel is underscoring an aspect that is pivotal to teams leading companies.
When we are vulnerable with our team—and our people generally—we make it easier for people to share what they think and know.
We’re aware of a business that was experiencing some serious financial difficulties and the parent company sent a “fixer” from head office to turn it around. But his I’m-the-boss-and-don’t-question-my-authority approach made it risky for people to challenge his directives. An employee implemented an action that the boss barked to him, even though he knew it would be a mistake. That mistake cost the business over one million dollars. We can wring our hands at the employee’s foolishness to impose such a burden on the company (that was already threatening to lay people off). But we must remember that leaders set the tone. Leaders create the culture. And this leader was acting in ways that limited how accurate the information he was getting would be.
Daniel wisely points out that the more people are vulnerable, the safer people in the organization feel, and the safer people feel, the more vulnerable they will be. It’s a flywheel! A virtuous loop! We’ve seen leaders humbly ask for help (being vulnerable) and then be offered some experience from a leader of a different division. That worked and the leader thanked the other team member, describing how much worse it would have been without that input. This triggered another team member to admit they needed some ideas for a problem in their area and an energetic brainstorm ensued. Within twelve months, that company had moved from being the highest-cost producer in their global operations to lowest-cost. Accurate information was shared generously. It happened because leaders were vulnerable. And it paid off big time!
Find out more about Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code on Amazon.