Idea in brief: vulnerability-based trust is instrumental in building cohesive teams, organizational health, and high-growth companies.
Per previous posts on Purpose, Linchpins, Multi-Threading and more, I spend a fair amount of time working with organizations on fundamental cultural concepts. Through my personal experience at four high-growth startups, coupled with my ongoing work with 20+ software companies at various stages, I've become convinced that organizational health is the critical foundation for company growth. While it doesn't ensure success, it's extraordinarily hard to build a company without it.
One of my favorite authors on the topic of healthy organizations is Patrick Lencioni. While his fables are airport classics, the 2012 best seller The Advantage is a must-read. Specifically, his early perspectives on building trust have been game changing for many, myself included.
Fundamentally, Lencioni argues that trust is the basis for any cohesive leadership team. Sounds basic, right? Well, until recently I viewed trust as predictability + empowerment. My early notions were that if my teams felt like I trusted them to do their work relatively independently, and if they felt like my reactions were pretty reasonable and predictable, we'd then develop a trusted relationship.
I was wrong.
In reality, what Lencioni and others have noted is that vulnerability-based trust is what enables people to truly connect. What does he mean by this? Specifically, "At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and their fear, to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team" (p. 27, The Advantage, Lencioni).
Vulnerable teams are willing to bring their raw, fragile, broken selves to their work. They're willing to admit weakness at times and to ask for help. They develop trusted relationships as they feel like other members of their team understand them better (minimizing miscommunication and maximizing bi-directional empathy). But, even more importantly, each team member understands that by being authentic and transparent, other co-workers then have "dirt" that they could use against them.
When coworkers withhold judgment and actually don't misuse new insights, deep trust develops. Then, the magic starts.
Personally, I've seen this magic occur countless times over the last couple of years since I gained this vulnerability-based trust insight. For example, when I bring my deep, true, raw and vulnerable self to a professional relationship (without going overboard, of course!), barriers seem to come down, collaboration increases, productivity soars and innovation is uncorked.
How might you incorporate the concept of vulnerability-based trust into your work relationships? Lencioni has several exercises to try. I've found a modification of Personal Histories (p. 28) works well.
Concretely, encouraging people to share a quick story about what they found challenging as a kid (often by informally doing so myself -- in the right situation and to the right level), opens up all kinds of new perspectives and conversations. It can be incredible to see people soften and view one another differently as they glean just a bit of the back story.
From there, the foundation for vulnerability-based trust can develop through Duos, a concept that transformational consulting gurus SY/Partners can help unpack and foster.
Overall, I'd encourage even the most hard-charging of high-growth executives to explore vulnerability-based trust. You might be amazed at what it does for your meaty business stuff (e.g key metrics around revenue growth) -- and also for the overall energy of your company.
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Steve Semelsberger is the Founder of Alder Growth Partners.