At our most recent wattsnext
team day, we discussed and dissected our company values, one by one. “No ego”, perhaps my favourite of these, sparked a conversation around vulnerability and its place in relationships of all kinds, including our line of work as service providers and in the management teams of our clients’ businesses.
As a heart-on-her-sleeve kind of girl, vulnerability has never been a difficult concept to welcome. In fact, I often find myself apologising for it; which, upon reflection, I should never have to do. But for others, it’s uncomfortable. It’s risky. In business, it can be perceived as weak or submissive. Why? The absolute best part of being human is the capacity to connect
with other humans. We’re hardwired for it. We crave it; we search for it. We live in families and we work in clusters of like-minded people. We are inspired by the leaders of our workplaces and we buy into their dreams. We love as couples and we flourish in friendships. Vulnerability is the driving force of that connection. It’s brave, and petrifying at times, but it’s impossible to fully co-exist without it.
Vulnerability builds trust, not only within organisations, but among people
. In the words of Patrick Lencioni (Author of Getting Naked - A Business Fable)
, “we earn trust by putting ourselves in a position of unprotected weakness and demonstrating that we believe they will support us”. Yet often, we make the worst of vulnerability because the world encourages us to project strength and maintain power. If we’ve been through troubled relationships, we protect ourselves; and we blame historic vulnerability for our pain. In workplaces, managers are often taught to keep a distance and cast a certain image. Service providers often fixate on their clients’ perception of confidence and expertise. However, great leaders, and great service providers, recognise the importance of bringing vulnerability to work because they understand that without it, their ability to build trusting relationships is stifled.
For us wattsnext
ers, we leave our ego at the door. We are comfortable with not having all the answers and our vulnerability is rewarded with client trust and loyalty. Of course, this is not to be confused with blindly accepting stuff-ups or failing to provide our deliverables. Incompetence is clearly distinguishable from an absence of transparency. The willingness to raise our hand when we are uncertain of any aspect of a client’s business, or to acknowledge our need to adjust delivery timelines for genuine reasons, only strengthens our clients’ confidence; they know we are always striving for a deeper understanding of their business and that we are committed to supplying the best possible service. While our clients require us to be skilled enough to meet their needs, it’s our honesty and commitment that will fire those connections which in turn feed their trust and reliance on us. The result is stronger, stickier and more authentic relationships.
Likewise, we encourage our clients’ leaders and managers to promote open communication among their teams. Undeniably, leaders are under pressure to perform at superior heights; to create plans and guide their teams in executing those strategies. But sometimes the boldest thing a leader can do is to just sit and listen. No leader knows it all or has the absolute skill set. It’s important to leverage all that team members can bring to the table by losing the ego and hearing and embracing their ideas. Vulnerability in leaders is effectively an openness that helps motivate team members to search themselves for the next great idea and work shoulder to shoulder with others to bring it to life.
Unfortunately, although they might understand it intellectually, most people will still struggle with vulnerability because we don’t like to be viewed as weak. Our fears are natural but at the same time quite irrational and they are not overcome easily. We need to sacrifice the self or ego and learn to find comfort in the discomfort. In personal relationships, that means lowering the walls and risking potential pain. In the workplace, it’s about dropping the “professional distance and cool” for uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.
Occasionally we get hurt – in business and in life. But relationship pain of any kind is an unavoidable part of being human. People let you down. Plans plummet. Occasionally, on softening, we are taken advantage of. These episodes can temporarily steal your soul. We can heed the warning, build walls and protect ourselves from the possibility of future hurt or business damage. Or – we can see these things for what they are: a mismatch of people, a learning, a change of direction, mere happenstance. If we close off to the risks of vulnerability, we also shut out opportunities for joy, intimacy, closeness, gratitude and connection.
And connection, I truly believe, is the key to personal, career and business prosperity.
Kate Fynes-Clinton, HR Advisor
Kate is qualified HR Advisor with a Human Resources Management and Behavioural Science degree. Kate brings experience in internal HR environments in which she helped to redefine the value of HR with strong advisory skills, compliance reviews, strategic planning, a focus on people management and a passion for developing positive work culture.
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