In the second installment of our consideration of Patrick Lencioni's "The Advantage" discussion on organizational health we look at THE basic building block for building a cohesive leadership team, vulnerability. Really what we are speaking of is trust but not the sort of trust that we all exercise daily such as I trust that guy will obey the red light at the intersection or based upon past experience I trust that Mary will back my proposal to the management team. No the kind of trust that Lencioni speaks of in his book is what he calls vulnerability based trust. That is a trust based upon the willingness of the team to be open and vulnerable with each other. "I was wrong, I made a mistake, you do that way better than I do, I am struggling with some aspects of this latest project and I need help" are all vulnerability statements.
How often to do hear these kinds of comments on your leadership team? And yet it is exactly this kind of vulnerability that is required to build a level of trust that breaks through the barriers of petty politics, fear of failure or looking weak, pride and ego. It means coming to a place where the group is willing to lay these things down for the greater good of the company or team. While this can seem pretty daunting at first perhaps you should ask yourself how much of your time in meetings and else where do you invest in preserving and shoring up your position and not actually dealing with the challenges facing the company? The great thing too about this type of trust is that it can be achieved both with new teams coming together or with teams that have been established for years.
One more thought before we look at how to build this level of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the basis for all healthy relationships. Marriages fail for lack of it. Research for yourself and you will find a wealth of material on this issue and the role it plays in creating healthy relationships. We are all different and look at the world in unique ways but it is only by being vulnerable that we create a milieu in which we accept those differences as something that may in fact enhance the team thus making it ok to just be yourself.
There are a lot of simple ways to begin the process of building this level of trust but it must begin with the leader. A leader willing to be vulnerable gives permission to the rest of the team to follow suite. You can begin with a short exercise in personal history - each answering small set of questions about their background - some off-site exercises do this using an icebreaker where you get a sheet of paper with unique facts about the people in the room and you have to find out who belongs to what fact. Using personality profiles like Insights, DiSC, Strengths Finder or Meyers-Briggs are useful tools too in moving beyond just getting to know each other. Once you know that Bob needs time to process new information and will not be comfortable in making snap decisions it is easier to deal with his hesitation when that comes up at a meeting - besides what decisions cannot wait for at least one meeting and a little reflection?
One thing that Patrick highlights that I feel is invaluable is to avoid what he terms the "Fundamental Attribution Error". In a nutshell it is our tendency to attribute what we consider to be negative behavior in others to their intentions or character (or lack of it) while attributing our own negative behavior to environment. I might see someone cut into traffic and deem them a jerk and impatient (they were just trying to be a jerk) but when I do the exact same thing it is just because the traffic was heavy and I needed to get into that lane, not my fault right? Be careful to avoid this tendency when dealing with people on your team.
How might this all look in reality? Let me share an example from my own experience.
In one organization we made it a point to go off-site at the start of each new business cycle and use that time to get to know any new team members and to do strategic planning. This team had been together for sometime and were walking in a pretty high level of vulnerability and trust with each other. There was a positive dynamic and the first days ice-breakers had gone well and we moved to focusing on our strategic planning. During one of the breaks I was pulled aside by one of my new staff who confided that she was thinking of leaving the company. When I asked why she said that after listening to everyone throughout the day she felt that she was nowhere near as qualified as the rest of the team. What was shocking was that she had come to us with a solid resume and an amazing set of credentials. What I had not realized is that while many on the team were familiar with each others weaknesses some of the new staff had not been around when the original members of the team had come together. We circled back later that evening after supper and because that time had been tagged as "team building" I took the opportunity to go through a personal background and present challenges exercise. Starting with myself, all of the team shared some of their challenges and fears and were open and vulnerable about the things they were struggling with. At the end of the session I sat down with this young woman and asked her if she was still struggling with feeling inadequate? She beamed and said it was the best thing she had gone through and really appreciated the honesty that was evident during the session. She realized that it was ok to have feelings of insecurity and was confident that she was on a team that would support her and that she could support. She turned out to be one of the strongest members of the staff and team.
We have to feel free to be ourselves and to bring that set of skills and perspective to bear on the team that we are a part of. The foundation for building this type of culture is by creating a team that demonstrates a vulnerability based trust. But it does not stop there - next we will look at mastering conflict.