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Patrick and Brene blog

Can team members be TOO vulnerable with each other? No, say experts

Brené Brown and Patrick Lencioni say to come clean, warts and all

Patrick and Brene blog

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown


I think you'll agree it's tough to show your underbelly at work. What's at risk for you? Everything, surely. Wouldn't you be losing:

  • the trust of your boss
  • your chance at that promotion
  • your colleagues' respect
  • or your ability to walk into the room with your head up?

Well, the answer might surprise you.

Patrick Lencioni and Brené Brown, two world experts on the subject of being vulnerable and workplace culture, have time and again shown that vulnerability leads to trust, not the other way round.

And trust is the essential building block for teamwork, feeling safe, and being productive.

Could a healthy workplace lie in your being more open, more vulnerable with your peers? 

Not a private therapy group

Without making your team your private therapy group, should you share your weaknesses, mistakes, or need for help with colleagues at work?

Yes, emphatic yes, says Patrick Lencioni, a sentiment echoed by vulnerability researcher Dr Brené Brown. It's advice that cuts through their many respective books (which include Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Brown's Dare to Lead).

Can you be TOO vulnerable? No, unless the team's just formed. 

Organisational health expert Lencioni does say that early days might not be the time for this courageous move. He counsels in The Advantage that "perhaps during the initial stages of team development" complete vulnerability is not a realistic expectation.

“But soon after, the only way for teams to build real trust is for team members to come clean about who they are, warts and all.”

Judgement is required

Lencioni says a team member arriving at every meeting armed with a laundry list of mistakes and weaknesses could be a problem, but the problem would be a lack of competence rather than too much vulnerability.

“A measure of judgment and emotional intelligence is always required, and I’ve found that the vast majority of leaders understand where to draw the line,” Lencioni says.

Millions of people can’t be wrong

With more than 37 million views for her talk on The Power of Vulnerability, academic Brené Brown has clearly found a water cooler topic sweet spot with the public, and powerful public figures.

"Brené taught me that leadership requires admitting what you don't know instead of pretending to know everything," Melinda Gates is quoted as saying in Inc. magazine. "I love her message that vulnerability is the key to building trust."

In her TED talk, Brown famously says "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen."

Dare to lead

In her latest book Dare to Lead, Brown says it’s often not a case of too much vulnerability, it’s a case of too little.

“People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong. Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege, and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting change,” she writes.

Authentic and imperfect is the new black

True belonging, she explains in her book Daring Greatly, only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.

“Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

In Daring Greatly, she sets out the 4 steps team members should take to feel they belong: 

  • Recognize that facing vulnerability takes enormous courage. Take small steps (like asking someone what they are thinking) and be proud of your bravery when you do.
  • Let go of the constant worry about what other people think of you. Most people are focused on their own internal struggles, not you.
  • Feeling overwhelmed? Focus your attention gently on your breath and the sensations in your body for a few moments before returning your attention back to the task at hand.
  • Don't worry about being perfect-in fact, don't even consider it. No one is perfect, and the more you hold yourself to an impossible ideal, the more easily you will give up.

Lencioni agrees, and he says the leader must go first.

“If the team leader is reluctant to acknowledge his or her mistakes, or fails to admit to a weakness that is evident to anyone else, there is little hope that other members of team are going to take that step themselves,” he says in The Advantage

So why not try it? Use your intelligence, assess the situation, and start with those small steps suggested by Dr Brown. You might find experience a new level of engagement, joy and authenticity in your work that wasn't there before.

Due to the pandemic, The Growth Faculty's events programme is now virtual and accessible to everyone.

Patrick Lencioni will be speaking at a live virtual event Patrick Lencioni - The 4 Pillars of High Performance Cultures on April 28, 2021. Our next event is Jim Collins in his February 2021 live virtual event Jim Collins - The Roadmap to GreatnessClick here to book.

As well, The Growth Faculty has this year launched virtual masterclasses - the Time For Transformation series; especially designed for business leaders. We make learning and development easy and inexpensive by bringing your team the world's renowned thought leader. Ensure your team are trained to pivot, adapt and innovate in these unprecedented times. See who's up next.



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