Why Being Vulnerable is Good For BusinessBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Last week I stood up in front of 50 business leaders and spoke, in excruciating detail, about one of my biggest failures of the last few months. Then we broke for an excellent dinner.
The crowd I addressed that evening was a group of leaders gathered for a dinner-discussion event sponsored by my friends at A New Equilibrium, exploring the subject of "How the Best Leaders Respond to Negative Events." And what better way to kick it off, than to tell everyone about my epic fail? Everyone loves a good failure—especially when it belongs to someone else. Probably because it reminds us we are not alone in our terror, and our situation is really not so bad after all. It diminishes the power the threat of failure can hold over us. After dinner, I finished the story with a happy ending and a lesson on the paradoxical benefits of surrendering our business challenges to God. By consciously letting go of our fear, anxieties, and anger, I told them, we usually get a better outcome. Then we asked everyone to break up into smaller groups of three’s and four’s to talk about their own negative experiences at work, and how they could better manage these challenges by applying the same spiritual discipline. I was astounded by the immediacy and depth of personal transparency people were sharing with their new friends. The failures were flying all around the room, like the air had just been let out of fifty fat balloons, in a buzz of heartfelt conversation. We could hardly pull them back together in time to close out the restaurant.
So why did these buttoned-up executives and entrepreneurs suddenly feel moved to spill their guts to complete strangers? Well, the truth is, I had an ulterior motive to sharing my miserable story at the start. You see, by being vulnerable first, I made it okay for everyone else to be vulnerable with each other. And that’s when good spiritual work can begin to happen within community—once we let go of that shallow, smirking façade of success. How else can we expect anyone to get to that level of real and raw? But here's the funny thing. A few days later, I attended a meeting at work where a professional services firm was making a pitch to try and help us work through a certain business issue. They had a presentation teed up for us, and as the first power point slide went up on the screen, I could not believe what it said under bullet point number three: We will be vulnerable with you.
I knew instantly what this guy was thinking. By being vulnerable with us, by sharing his own company’s foibles and dirty laundry, he knew we would then want to share more of our company's problems, too. And when he learned about what we were struggling with, guess what? He was better able to offer solutions that his firm could help us solve through their services. It brought the business relationship to an entirely new level. Vulnerability builds credibility—and then trust. And in case you were wondering, the meeting lasted four hours.
Look; we can choose to hide the awful mess going on inside our lives by propping up some kind of shiny image of success. And our meager attempts to fake out everyone around us is, of course, much more appealing than spilling the beans about the wrenching truth: the terrible mistakes we've made; the botched relationships; the lost opportunities; all of those times we fell flat to the floor while everyone watched. But I have grown to appreciate more the people who are not afraid to be transparent, raw, and realistic about the challenges and disappointments they are experiencing; those who can admit that maybe they don’t have all the answers to everything. It makes me want to be real and transparent with them, too. I don’t know how else anyone can expect to develop true relationships. Plus, it’s a great way to close business.
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.