Erik Barnlund

Let’s Get Vulnerable


How Being Comfortable With Weaknesses Builds Functional Leadership Teams

“What was your most embarrassing moment in life?” “What did you want to be when you grow up and why?”

These seem like unlikely questions to hear at a leadership meeting. But they might be the just the type of questions you want to ask when the goal is to build healthier, closer and better functioning leadership for your organization.vulnerable

Here at Mavidea, we’ve always worked toward strengthening the bonds within our leadership team through conversation. It helps us get to know each person in the room a little bit

Here are some important questions for your group:

  • Can you talk about a time when things didn’t work out as well as you planned?
  • Is your team able to discuss what kinds of leadership behaviors fail your team?
  • What does your leadership team do that lets people down?

These are just ideas for the kinds of questions that we, as leaders, need to ask ourselves regularly. Does your group have the courage to ask them?

In a recent strategic planning meeting, I asked people, “What is the one thing you are most scared of?”

I opened that conversation by talking about how I personally struggle with hypochondria. Sometimes it’s just shy of debilitating. These thoughts and feelings can consume me when my brain’s not focused on solving problems at Mavidea or serving my wife and family.

Clearly, this was a difficult experience to share.

But it set the tone for the conversation that became one of the most important we have had as a team in years. Over the next 45 minutes, we grew closer — and grew in trust by multiples.

Pretty soon, people were opening up and letting on to secrets they had for years — since childhood! What we achieved in that moment explained why the members of our team behaved in certain ways and in various kinds of situations, especially stressful ones.

The subjects we talked about were ones that we don’t usually discuss in the workplace. The understanding that resulted set the stage for a daylong strategic planning session that will impact Mavidea Technology for a long, long time.

Making trust your foundation

lencioniIf you take the mirror image of this diagram of Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you’ll see that healthy organizations must be built on trust.

Healthy teams aren’t afraid to delve into difficult subjects. So when the book talks about trust as the foundation of the pyramid it says, “be vulnerable without fear of repercussions.”

If your team can do that, it puts you in a great position to tackle what’s ahead of you to conquer the rest of that pyramid.

If the leadership team can develop an optimal level of trust within that organization, it will develop a scenario where employees trust other employees. The organization’s “horsepower” can be harnessed. Talent and intelligence can be leveraged without fear.

If your leadership team can truly trust each other, then the next section of the pyramid becomes easier to navigate.

That component is conflict.

Coming to grips with conflict

The definition of conflict, according to Lencioni, is constructive and ideological debate.

Conflict can be good thing. You need it to evolve, change and adapt.

When you can fearlessly resolve conflict by voicing, thoughts, ideas and concerns, the progress you make will quickly expand outward within your organization.

Making the climb to commitment

By conquering conflict, you propel yourself into the next stage, which is commitment.

For commitment to exist, you must have clarity, engagement and buy in. Commitment that implies the individuals within your group trust each other.

This means they can feel comfortable creating constructive conflict. Team members have an opportunity to resolve issues, engage and move productively ahead.

A committed team has a much greater chance to succeed than if members of the team refuse to engage.

It’s a fact:  Uncommitted people don’t work that hard to make your team succeed. Sometimes, they even sabotage it!

If your group is to reach their most aspirational goals, each person on the team must be personally committed to achieving them.

With commitment comes accountability

If everyone on your team is committed, you are able hold each other accountable.

In a committed team, if someone gets off track, the other members can encourage him or her to get back in the game — and do that constructively.

In a lot of organizations, hierarchy trumps accountability.  For example, the VP of Marketing doesn’t feel they can hold the CEO accountable for his or her decision. The result? You end up with a lot of horsepower not being applied to the road.

Accountability applies at all levels — especially with the leadership team.

There is no I in results

Individual contributions are important. But the kind of results that build over time can only be won by teams.

We often forget there’s no “I” in team. Or, that it often takes the extraordinary efforts of many to create a success.

In a lot of companies, you’ll find people clawing and scraping to get to the next rung of the ladder. It’s a dysfunctional, poisonous environment to be in.

From an organizational standpoint, it’s a sign that the full capability of that team is not being leveraged the way it could be.

If this kind of behavior is happening inside your company, it’s essential to return to building trust as your foundation before you can move effectively ahead.

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