Skills to Create Culture (Part 2/3)

Building Safety, Sharing Vulnerability, Establishing Purpose

In Part 1 of this series[1], we looked at Building Safety, the first of three culture-building skills defined by Daniel Coyle in his book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups  Now we’ll look at the second skill, Sharing Vulnerability.

Sharing VulnerabilitySharing Vulnerability

Successful groups manage to get past the posturing and politicking that prevents average groups from synergizing their intelligence into something greater than the sum of the parts.  When we buy into the myth that strong leaders don’t reveal their weaknesses, we immediately limit the contributions we’ll get from every other member of the group. People value being needed, and a leader who admits they need help creates the space for others to bring out their best. We’re not talking about milk-toast, namby-pamby, undecisive leadership. We’re talking about leadership that is confident enough to humbly recognize that others hold pieces to the puzzle that we lack.

Vulnerability Loops

Getting shared vulnerability to work in our favor involves creating vulnerability loops. It takes trust for a leader to model vulnerability and admit weakness. But extending trust builds trust.  Coyle quotes Dr. Jeff Polzer, a professor of organizational behavior at Harvard, as saying, “The second person is the key.  Do they pick it up and reveal their own weaknesses, or do they cover up and pretend they don’t have any?” Polzer says that as the signal spreads, “You can actually see the people relax and connect and start to trust.”[2]  A successful culture results when it’s okay to admit weakness and help each other.

We also need to recognize that sometimes we’re the second person…how do we respond when someone else trusts enough to be vulnerable with us?

It’s Painful

We tend to avoid vulnerability. It’s painful to admit weakness.  It’s painful to admit mistakes. Sometimes even to ourselves.  But when vulnerability is combined with interconnectedness we recognize that we create risk to our group by not being vulnerable.  Our interconnectedness causes us to feel the group pain, not just our own.  We must choose whether to focus on ourselves or focus on the group and our shared objective. Hint: True leaders don’t focus on themselves…

Successful groups excel at learning from every situation. They repeat what works and avoid repeating what doesn’t.  But most groups aren’t willing to go through the painful experiences of analyzing mistakes (for learning, not for placing blame) or allowing third-parties to examine our actions and suggest improvements.  Our fragile egos are easily bruised when someone sees something we missed.  So we limit our opportunities to learn, and so limit our opportunities to succeed.

Vulnerability precedes trust.  Trust breeds learning.  Learning feeds success.

Going Deeper

Each section of Coyle’s book includes an Ideas for Action chapter with practical habits you can use to  develop these skills.  Like professional athletes, professional leaders embrace the pain that builds the muscles that equip their team for success.

[1] Skills to Create Culture (Part 1/3): Building Safety.

Skills to Create Culture (Part 3/3): Establishing Purpose.

[2] Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, New York : Bantam, 2018, p.104 © 2022 enLumen Leadership Services

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