30. July 2021

Trust goes with vulnerability, not popularity

In this enlightening 50-minute TED podcast, Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, and Bestselling Author Brené Brown, two of the most influential management thinkers of our time, reflect together on the power of showing vulnerability at work. Here is what I learned and how I think it connects to existing insights on trust-building.

Striving for popularity may push you apart. Particularly in business contexts, we have trouble showing our vulnerability. This is rooted in our performative culture, where we learn from childhood onwards that we only reach acceptance and respect by being exceptionally good, strong, smart and perfect. Both Adam and Brené share openly how misleading and exhausting this concept has been in their own lives, striving for being liked and popular through perfectionism. To outcast any kind of feelings of shame or risking exposure in our lives, erodes learning and meaningful connection to others, which is particularly important in business contexts and for effective leadership. That’s why vulnerability is an important catalyst that fuels humanity, connectivity, and trust, particularly in the performative culture of a workplace.

How much vulnerability should we share at work? Although we might intellectually understand that vulnerability at work is not a weakness, but a strength, it doesn’t mean we should share every one of our feelings in every situation with everybody. Particularly as a leader it’s not meant for “working our shit out with everybody,” regardless of how this might affect the other (e.g. potentially leaving employees in fear). As a leader we should share our feelings whenever we honestly think it moves our work connections and relationships at work forward. We learn that to be vulnerable does not necessarily imply to share all feelings openly, but to set the context for it to be possible.

Perfect and brave leaders are not necessarily more trusted. Brené admits that she had to rethink a key assumption that she took for granted in her own book (Dare to lead): Not everybody gets inspired by brave leadership. For some this might cause instead a pressure and demand to be brave and courageous just as their leaders are, which in turn suppresses the sharing of uncertainties, weaknesses or needs of learnings. By the way, this resonates very much with over-trust, i.e. a missing match of trust given and trust wanted between leader and employees, as defined by a recent management study.

In my own words: lead with an open heart. In my own words the message of Brené and Adam for me is to live and lead with an open heart. Only in environments where we can live with an open heart is where we can inspire safety – the most important ingredient that leads to connection and trust - in ourselves as well in others. To listen to this podcast on how to create open-hearted relationships at work felt truly inspiring and encouraging. Because Adam and Brené are both not only brilliant thought leaders of our time, but above all else wonderful role models: They openly shared as well their own vulnerabilities and where they personally had to rethink and change their lives.

Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Dr. Eva Bilhuber
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