The Surprising Power of Vulnerability

As a society, we are generally quite uncomfortable with the idea of vulnerability. New leaders often feel the need to present themselves as invulnerable and to hide any perceived weaknesses, lest their team think them less capable.

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Daniel Coyle describes something he calls a “vulnerability loop”: “A shared exchange of openness, it’s the most basic building block of cooperation and trust. Vulnerability loops seem swift and spontaneous from a distance, but when you look closely, they all follow the same discrete steps.” These steps can be summarized as follows:

  1. One person signals a vulnerability
  2. A second person receives the signal
  3. The second person responds by sending a vulnerability signal in return
  4. The first person receives this second signal
  5. The cycle continues, creating an atmosphere of closeness and trust

Vulnerability cycles can happen quickly, or they can build over time. Interestingly, they’re also contagious; research shows that people who engage in vulnerability loops with each other are more likely to initiate them with others.

So what steps can you take to initiate a vulnerability loop? The answer is, quite simply, to ask for help. Another common issue facing leaders today is lack of delegation. We tend to glorify leaders who try to take on as much as possible on their own. The strategy of asking for help solves this problem while also signaling vulnerability and helping to build closeness and trust.

This process does require a high degree of honesty with both yourself and the people you work with. If it feels overwhelming, consider enlisting the help of a coach to get started. A coach will first help you to make an honest assessment of your weaknesses, and then help you to get comfortable with exposing them to others.

Vulnerability may feel uncomfortable initially, but it’s a key component of healthy organizational culture. If you’d like to discuss how to use vulnerability to enhance teamwork in your organization, feel free to reach out. You can contact me via my website, LinkedIn and Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you!

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