By getting naked before anyone else, by taking the risk of making himself vulnerable with no guarantee that other members of the team will respond in kind, a leader demonstrates an extraordinary level of selflessness and dedication to the team. ~Patrick Lencioni
The idea of getting naked puts the concept of vulnerability in a different context or perspective. I’ll provide a personal example. I’m a member of a money group, not an investment group, a money group. The purpose of the group is to openly share and ask one another questions about money. We talk about the role it plays in our lives, how it might control us from time to time, how to make both small and significant financial decisions, etc. The first time we met, we got financially naked in front of each other. We each stood up in front of a large white board and divulged all of our finances – our income, savings, investments, debt, etc. Money (even more so than sex) is our most private topic; something in our culture we do not openly share. So to say that we each felt a little vulnerable that day is probably an understatement.
Here’s what I’ve discovered about my money group experience. Because we went to an extraordinary level of vulnerability with one another, I trust this group of people immensely. I’ve gone to them with decisions and challenges that span well beyond money because I trust them. After all, we got financially naked together.
Earlier this month I was facilitating a leadership development class with a group of young leaders and we were talking about the idea of vulnerability, especially as it relates to asking for feedback. They were okay with asking their supervisor and peers for feedback, but struggled with asking those whom they supervise. For many of them, that level of vulnerability felt too much like weakness.
Henry Cloud said that to be an effective leader, a leader of integrity, “you must be strong enough to depend upon, but vulnerable enough to identify with.” Patrick Lencioni refers to this as vulnerability-based trust. This is precisely what I feel with my money group. Had there been just one member of our group who either refused to “get naked” or didn’t get fully naked along with the rest of us, the level of trust within the group would have been dramatically affected.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, A New Slant on Vulnerability: Strength Not Weakness, Dr. Robert Firestone says this about vulnerability.
“…when we talk about being vulnerable, we're talking about living without defense, or with minimal defense, that is, taking a chance, going after everything we believe in, everything we desire. When we're vulnerable, it simply means that we're capable of pursuing our goals, wants, and intentions, and we're able to deal with the consequence on a feeling level.” Certainly sounds more like a strength than a weakness to me, and also sounds a lot like effective leadership.
Patrick says that “the only way for the leader of a team to create a safe environment for his team members to be vulnerable is by stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe and uncomfortable first.” As leaders, are we willing to be the first to take a step that feels unsafe and uncomfortable? Are we willing to get naked?