Trustworthiness requires being willing and able to be vulnerable. A dictionary definition would say that vulnerability is being susceptible to physical or emotional injury. In this case, it means emotional injury — being “available” emotionally such that you care sufficiently. If something goes awry, you feel it.

I ran smack dab into vulnerability 16 years ago, when I began a transformational journey that started with a divorce.  A personal injury of this sort opened me up to inquiry faster than anything else had.  I wanted more than anything to find my power, to get back to a place within myself where I could accomplish anything.

What I learned regarding power and vulnerability seem paradoxical.  At the same time I was learning a new way to be open, vulnerable, and reach out to the world in a new and more powerful way, I was also learning the Harrison Assessment which has 12 paradoxes.  This immersion into paradoxes opened me up to the possibility that I could be vulnerable and at the same time be powerful.

A paradox is two seemingly opposite traits, and yet these two traits need one another for a wholesome interchange.  An easy paradox to understand is communication — a great communicator is not just frank, by delivering straight talk. A great communicator is also diplomatic, delivering straight talk in a way people will receive it without pushing the communicator or her message away.

That same paradoxical dynamic is true of vulnerability and power in a leader, or an HR professional, or any professional for that matter.  A great team player needs to access his or her powerful self when making decisions for an organization or as part of a bigger whole.  For leaders, the stakes are higher because the future of people’s employment is at stake, and vendors, board members, customers depend on a leader’s power.

Here are some indicators of trustworthiness through vulnerability in teams:

  • If I screw up, I’ll own it.
  • If you screw up, I’ll provide you space in which you can clean it up with me and the team, and we can re-set expectations.
  • We agree we’re striving for the same outcomes.
  • We measure so we know when to course correct and sometimes when to self-correct.
  • When we have a challenge and the conversation does not go well, we can ask for what my friend Mary Lore author of Managing Thought calls a “Do-Over.”  That means re-framing the conversation, this time with a bit more consciousness.  It provides an opportunity to re-set the relationship around a sensitive issue where people may be feeling more vulnerable than usual because they care deeply.
  • We can count on each other to stay within acceptable behavioral boundaries and we can count on each other to say what is there to be said, not pretend everything is OK when it’s not OK.  In other words, we can be vulnerable as access to power.  Then we can move together again toward that shared outcome.
  • When we can count on one another to be vulnerable, we have trust. When we have trust, things move more quickly and the energy is freer. We’re more able to be ourselves because we know we are valued at a deeper level than just our output.For leaders, this is most important to the whole organization because being vulnerable brings accessibility and humanness, qualities that allow people to be comfortable around a powerful leader.  No power is sacrificed by being vulnerable. Paradoxically, it is strengthened.

Pamela Stambaugh is a seasoned advisor to HR professionals, business executives and their teams. She provides HR technology solutions (Harrison Assessments), coaching, and team facilitation addressing 3 P’s:  Performance, Productivity and People.

Download Pamela’s free eBook 7 Costly Mistakes Senior Executives Make. Engage with Pamela on Twitter Facebook and LinkedIn