In his book, The Culture Code, New York Times best-selling author Daniel Coyle asks readers to imagine that they’re sitting with a stranger working through the following sets of questions.
- What was the best gift you ever received and why?
- Describe the last pet you owned.
- Where did you go to high school? What was your high school like?
- Who is your favorite actor or actress?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
At first glance, these sets of questions look alike. But, if you were to do this limited exercise (or its full form that contains thirty-six questions), you may start to notice two differences.
- As you progressed through Set B, you could begin to feel uneasy. Your heart rate might increase. You may blush, hesitate, and possibly laugh out of nervousness. Let’s be honest; it’s not easy to tell a stranger something important you’ve dreamed of doing or why you haven’t done it.
- If you were able to complete all of Set B, you and this stranger likely would feel closer to each other. According to experimenters, around 24% closer than those who complete Set A.
Although these questions look similar on the surface, the first set of questions allow most people to stay in their psychological comfort zones; the second set invites participants to be vulnerable, and when we lean into vulnerability, there are powerful relational effects.
In a way, we all know that vulnerability is essential in relationships, but often this association is confined to our personal relationships (e.g., friendships, romantic partners, family members). But as more research pours in, it’s becoming undeniable that vulnerability benefits all relationships.
For instance, if team members feel reluctant to be vulnerable, every little thing at work becomes a moment where insecurities and ego can undermine progress and production. You’ve probably experienced the pain that a lack of vulnerability creates in a workplace. It’s the moment when a leader refuses to concede their point or is reluctant to own a mistake. A lack of vulnerability is often the culprit when a leader can’t handle constructive criticism or defensiveness characterizes a team member.
In a day and age when everyone is looking for a competitive advantage, creating a culture where team members and leaders embrace vulnerability might be the single greatest advantage a leader can leverage. How do we go about cultivating vulnerability? Here are some steps that you can take as a leader to nurture greater vulnerability within your teams.
Admit what you don’t know and who has helped on a project.
No one has all the answers, and rarely does one person bring a project to completion. If you need help, ask for it and when it is delivered, make sure you acknowledge that when the final product is delivered. When we show that we’re not afraid to ask for help, it sets the example for other people to do the same.
When you make a mistake, acknowledge it.
We like to keep up the illusion of invincibility, but eventually, reality brings us back down to earth with a mistake. Failing to take ownership in these moments is a great way to communicate that we either lack awareness or that we would rather have someone else take the heat for our mistake. Neither is a good look on a leader. If a mistake falls at your feet, own it. Team members will respect your honesty even if disappointed in your blunder, and relational trust will build even if performance trust is temporarily compromised.
Allow for imperfection.
A companion to the suggestion above is to remember that no one is perfect. As frustrating as mistakes can be, if we expect our team to bat 1000, we’re going to be disappointed—and probably push them away. If we want to inspire the best in our people, we need to have realistic expectations.
Final Thought: Cultivating vulnerability is about leading our team in behaviors that set egos and insecurities aside so that we can do our best work as a team. What egos or insecurities are hampering your ability to be vulnerable?