The older I get, the more stressful life becomes. If the added responsibility wasn't enough pressure already, the belief that everything has to be executed flawlessly sometimes makes me feel like I'm inside of an Instant Pot. 

Even though the "task" at hand can be overwhelming, I still act as if I have everything in control. The fear of seeming weak or ill-equipped makes me internalize my insecurities and hide my vulnerability. 

In a TED Talk, Brené Brown, vulnerability and shame researcher, shared some of her perspective and stories on the fear of vulnerability. "For women, shame is, do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat. For men, there's a perception that people would rather see them die on top of their white horse than to watch them fall."

At work, the fear of vulnerability can be worse -- especially for those in leadership positions. People will go to great lengths to hide their fears, insecurities, and weaknesses. Unfortunately, doing so also restricts their ability to connect with their employees -- and it hurts the team's performance. This connection is what Intuit CEO, Brad Smith, says is the key to building an All-Star team.

In an article that Smith wrote on LinkedIn, he said,

"... high performing teams occur when a collection of individuals are willing to be vulnerable, establish trust and work together in support of a goal that is more important than their individual accomplishments."

Smith challenges leaders to break down the walls that each of us constructs individually and to forge more trusting relationships by focusing on what we have in common rather than subtle differences. Sounds simple, but unfortunately, it's not human nature. 

"Scientists proved this empirically in the 1990's, when the Human Genome Project discovered that 99.8 percent of all human beings are genetically the same. Yet we often spend much of our lives focused on the .2 percent that makes us different."

This fear of what's different prevents us from opening ourselves up to others, embracing diversity and forming bonds critical to our team's performance.

So, how do you break down these barriers as a leader? You're not going to like it, but to create a culture where employees feel safe to take risks -- you'll have to go first. 

I've been lucky to have worked with a few great leaders who haven't been afraid to be open and honest. 

One example included a situation in which there was a lot of unrest within my team due to some organizational changes. People were nervous and scared. Although the meeting's itinerary for the quarter had a million of other things we needed to address, this leader could sense that if they didn't take time to talk about the elephant in the room, we weren't going to get anywhere. 

It wasn't a formalized speech with verbiage approved by communication. It didn't provide the answers to all our concerns, either. It was raw, unfiltered and filled with emotion. It was perfect. 

To paraphrase, they opened up the floor to questions (talk about putting yourself in a vulnerable situation) and went on to address every anxiety with full transparency. In the process, they shared their own hesitations and promised (even though the future was unclear) that we would figure it out together. I wouldn't go as far to say that we all felt warm and fuzzy afterward, but at least we knew where they stood. 

More than anything, in times of vulnerability, people just want to know that they're not alone. They want to vent, voice their concerns and feel understood. They want some sense of belonging and certainty even if it's through shared uncertainty. 

By leveling with us and sharing their feelings and insecurities, a beautiful thing happened -- every single one of us could see ourselves in them. They became instantaneously relatable and therefore trustworthy. Our team went on to accomplish things that we would have never envisioned for ourselves -- projects that might have taken other organizations years we did in months. We trusted one another and leaned on each other for help. 

Unfortunately, most managers restrict their team's performance through their own insecurities and affections. 

Vulnerability is not weakness. It takes courage and confidence. It's counterintuitive, but being open about your limitations could be the key to unlocking your (and your team's) full potential.

Published on: Jan 17, 2018