Daring to be vulnerable

By Clinton Dix

I was recently leading a session on cross-cultural leadership with 25 mission agency staff from Brazil. As I spoke about the potential pitfalls and methods of preventing cultural mistakes, the chairman of the board whispered me a question, “Can I share with the group the email that you sent the board earlier this year?”

I stopped and quickly considered it. I had sent an email a while back carefully explaining our consulting requirements. It turned out that people reading my email completely misunderstood my intentions. So I agreed (slightly reluctantly). To my surprise the chairman had a copy of my email with him and proceeded to read it out, but without mentioning any names. The entire group howled with laughter that a mission leader could have sent such an email.

After the laughter died down I dared to admit: “I was the one that sent the email.” Stunned silence… I continued facilitating. From that moment on our discussions got deeper and more open.

I thought about this afterwards. Why had I dared to be vulnerable? I realised that it was only because we had worked together before and we trusted each other. What difference had it made? I also realised that after the “confession” the trust level deepened and our discussions also deepened.  Research backs up both observations:

  • Vulnerability and transparency are stronger when trust already exists.
  • Vulnerability and transparency can deepen trust.

But…what about when there is no trust, either because something has occurred to break trust, or where there is no history to establish trust?

  • Are we willing to be vulnerable, to be transparent in those situations?
  • What stories can we share with others that allows us to be vulnerable, that can create that first spark of trust?