Leading Change Requires Vulnerability

Tuesday, January 2 2018

Imagine this scenario: you are the CEO of a start-up who must tell staff that you have run out of funds and can no longer pay their salaries. How many would stay to work twice as hard for half the pay?

That is the challenge that faced serial entrepreneur Archana Patchirajan. Her staff did stay and eventually their company sold for $14 million. Why did they stay? It was a great place to work with strong relationships and a foundation of trust. The vulnerability Patchirajan showed when she shared the company’s dilemma with her team led to a happy outcome.

If you don’t think that most of your staff would react the same way, you might want to change your approach to leadership. Get out of your comfort zone and do what does not come easily. Stretch and be vulnerable. Ask for help and create a new future.

Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness. Every leader who wants to effect change has to show courage, strength and vulnerability. It is a matter of being uncomfortable, doing things differently. Leaders who are not willing to stretch and create a new culture will likely generate the same results or even go backwards.

If you are leading a transformational change, focus on how to guide and support the team and their results rather than protecting your own self-image:

  • Take ownership and face the truth. Communicate openly about what is not working and the influence you had on the less than satisfactory results.
  • Get to know individuals and what motivates them. Treat them as they would like to be treated, with care and respect.
  • Support and guide them to be accountable for the results they have committed to achieve.
  • Build a community. Brené Brown, an expert on social connection, describes vulnerability as a key to success, where the juice happens. So be vulnerable at work. Accept that mistakes sometimes happen and look for solutions together versus laying blame.

In his book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes how leaders are responsible for overcoming these dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust 

Trust will never be developed to a deep level if we are not willing to be open and vulnerable.

  1. Fear of Conflict

Individuals must be honest and vulnerable, willing to share how they are feeling, and able to bring forward any issues they identify.

  1. Lack of Commitment

Keeping commitments requires sharing what is not working and what needs to happen to achieve success.

  1. Avoidance of Accountability

Take ownership and accept responsibilities. It takes vulnerability to be honest about the results to date.

  1. Inattention to Results

Choose to focus on tracking progress and accept exactly what stage the results are at. This may require time dedicated to planning and focusing on high pay-off activities and sometimes saying no to other projects. This may mean that not everything can be done and choices have to be made.

Change requires that each person on a team focus on how they affect the results and it starts with the leader. When the leader has demonstrated vulnerability, shared, and reached out for help then change will be easier. Greater success should follow.