Vulnerability: The Key to Trust

Vulnerability: The Key to Trust

In one of my favorite books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni defines trust as:

The confidence among team members that their peer’s intentions are good and that there is no reason to be protective or fearful around the group.

In essence, he’s saying that team members who trust one another are comfortable being vulnerable about their strengths as well as their shortcomings. They don’t need to hide because they trust that no matter what, they will be received by their teammates.

My goal in facilitating team building workshops is to create a safe space for individuals to take a step toward becoming more vulnerable. The impact is profound.

In one workshop, a college athlete explained to her teammates why she became so angry at herself when she committed mistakes in games. Through heavy sobs, this young woman shared how her dad would hit her at home when she would make mistakes in her high school games. The impact of her words was visible.

First, it brought her teammates to a new understanding of her angry responses, giving them both compassion and perspective to more effectively reach out to her when that happens this season.

Second, it encouraged her when her teammates responded to her pain with compassion. Many of them shed tears as she spoke.

Third, it gave everyone else in the room permission to share things that they may not have been courageous enough to speak had someone else not opened up first.

Developing a spirit of vulnerability on your team starts with you, the leader. Keep in mind these three things:

  1. Be Open. When you open up and share about your life, your team members will see that you’re human and will feel more at ease. Talk about things besides your job or team and you’ll find others more willing to share those things too.
  2. Admit Mistakes. Few things lead to open, honest communication like a leader’s humility and willingness to admit when he/she is wrong. Showing your team members that you know you’re not perfect sends the message that you know they aren’t either. In turn, they’ll be more willing to own their mistakes as well.
  3. Ask Questions. Your team members want to know that you care about more than just their performance. There’s no better way to demonstrate this than by asking questions and then being quiet. Listen. Let them talk. Ask more questions. You’ll be amazed at what they say and you learn!

Creating trust isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t easy either. As leaders, we must be intentional and willing to be uncomfortable and vulnerable ourselves, if we expect those following our lead to do the same.

Have you ever participated on a team where the leader modeled vulnerability? What difference did that make? Share your story below.

2 Responses to Vulnerability: The Key to Trust

  • Stephanie

    I agree, Rick! A leader who shows weakness endears himself to his followers. Thanks for your insight. 

  • Coach Rick

    Stephanie – this is a GREAT read.  My opinion is that people *think* they are weak when they open up and ask for help, showing vulnerability.  It is my experience, and this article demonstrates it, that it is the opposite.  Keep these coming, they are very inspirational!