It was about five minutes into our coaching call. My client, Jeremy is the director of Recruiting for a large restaurant chain. It was when we began the discussion of powerful communication and what it takes to become a highly effective communicator when Jeremy threw out his observation.
“Keith I got it. I figured out what my weakness is in my leadership style and communication. My downfall is, I’m one of the guys.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” I inquired?
“Well, if you’re one of the guys, it’s much more difficult to draw that line in the sand and set the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior and what is not, both in and outside of the office,” he justified.
“And when did you come to this realization?” I asked, curiously.
“When speaking with my boss, the VP of HR. She told me, after observing me interacting with my team, that I shouldn’t allow myself to be so open or vulnerable in terms of making fun of myself or sharing some of my successes as well as my failures when I was an active recruiter. She said by doing this, there’s no separation between me, as the boss and the people who report to me. She felt that if I continue to do this, they will wind up not respecting me or my opinion.”
“Well, if you allow your team to cross a boundary that you don’t enforce, I can understand her comment. But listening to you, that’s not the case. Besides, knowing you, I would think that is one of your greatest gifts and attributes; your ability to develop strong relationships, trust and loyalty amongst your team.”
“That’s exactly how I felt!” Jeremy exclaimed. “Throughout my whole career as a manager, I pride myself on being able to develop nurturing, rewarding relationships with my team. Even last night, when I took the team out for dinner and I was getting ready to leave so they can have some time together, they genuinely wanted me to stay.”
I continued. “Well, let me share with you a new concept I’ve been working on and will be included in my new book, Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. I call it, Vulnerability Based Leadership(tm).
You see, how your boss is telling you to act will only succeed in developing more of that superficial trust. This is the type of trust that does not foster strong relationships nor promote deep trust amongst your team. It prevents people from coming to their boss or their co-workers with a problem or challenge simply because the atmosphere they feel is one that is just not safe to do so. This is the type of trust that’s built upon other people’s self serving, political agenda. Unfortunately, most companies foster this type of limiting culture.
Conversely, vulnerability based leadership promotes the type of trust every organization strives for. The type of vulnerability I am suggesting encompasses what you can do to cultivate a safe environment to earn trust, to build trust, to reinforce trust and to demonstrate trust within your company and amongst your sales team. There are the more obvious ways to go about building trust, such as honoring your word, following through with your commitments, being consistent with your approach to managing, coaching and communicating, being respectful and supportive. While these are all healthy practices that build trust, they will only take you to a certain point. To truly build the type of trust that carries teams on to win the championship, to develop the type of loyalty that’s unshakeable and deep, the only way to foster this type of culture is though vulnerability. And that requires every manager to demonstrate their vulnerability in front of their salespeople. Ultimately, it requires the manager to be human.
Now, when I suggest making yourself vulnerable, I’m not suggesting you do anything that is going to put you or someone else in harms way. It’s more about embracing your humanity in order to connect with your people.
But to develop a high performance long lasting team, the deeper meaning of trust is illuminated by the ability of the manager and the team to be vulnerable, where the core intention is to encourage a deeper connection to one another. Vulnerability driven trust allows people to more comfortably and confidently share their true mistakes, failures, challenges, feelings and concerns that are often kept bottled up inside in fear of expressing them and being misinterpreted as a sign of weakness.
When an employee possesses the unshakeable belief in their manager that their intentions are sound, pure and good with no hidden agenda, it reduces and ultimately eliminates the need for salespeople to feel guarded or protective around their manager or even around their team. This promotes a stronger feeling of trust, knowing that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them in any way and instead will become a conduit for their own continued development.
While it may sound counterintuitive, it is a leadership paradox; being vulnerable does not equate to weakness but to greater strength.
That’s why I always say; show me a manager who embraces their humanity and expresses their vulnerabilities and I will show you a manager who is fearless and invincible.