Establishing trusted relationships is a critical imperative for leadership success today, and a key way to develop trust with those you lead is by being vulnerable. I’m not talking about getting on the proverbial therapist’s couch and telling your direct reports all of your deep, inner secrets. I’m talking about disclosing appropriate and relevant amounts of information about yourself over the course of time as relationships grow and develop.
In his book, Getting Naked, author Patrick Lencioni discusses three fears that keep us from being vulnerable…from “getting naked.” Lencioni discusses these fears in the context of sabotaging client relationships, but the lessons are equally relevant for leaders in regards to developing trust with their followers. Leaders sabotage trust by giving in to the following fears:
- The fear of losing followership (“business” in the context of Lencioni’s parable about client relationships) – The business of a leader is influencing others to achieve their personal goals and those of the organization. Sometimes leaders fear being vulnerable because it could be perceived as a sign of weakness, or evidence that their leadership isn’t needed. Leaders can conquer this fear by being “other-focused” rather than self-focused and remembering that their top priority is to help others succeed. When your followers believe you have their best interests in mind, they will trust you and give you the discretionary energy and commitment that is essential for organizational success.
- The fear of being embarrassed – Many leaders are afraid they will be embarrassed by not having all the right answers or being proven wrong in public. To prevent embarrassment, leaders play their cards close to the vest, don’t share information with others, and don’t allow participation in decision-making. Creating a culture where mistakes are celebrated as learning opportunities, risk taking is encouraged, and stupid or obvious questions encouraged will help allay this fear and lead to higher levels of trust in leaders’ relationships.
- The fear of feeling inferior – This fear is rooted in the leader’s ego. Ken Blanchard likes to say that EGO stands for “edging good out.” Leaders do this by focusing on their reputation and social standing and pushing all other interests aside. These kinds of leaders often derive their self-worth from the successes they achieve and the applause of adoring fans. Trusted leaders overcome this fear by cultivating an attitude of humility. Humility doesn’t mean that you think less of yourself. It means you think about yourself less. You build trust by keeping the focus on the goals of the team and the needs of your followers and not worrying about who gets the credit for success.
The bottom line effect of getting naked with your followers is that you’ll develop trusted relationships that will fuel the success of your team and organization.
“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
M. Scott Peck