By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
I knew a teacher once who always advised: “Never smile before Christmas.” Students were awed by his intelligence, but I never heard any of them speak of him in terms of serving as a role model for them. He was just too distant and remote.
I knew a bishop once who said: “Never let them see you sweat.” People were in awe of his determination, but only a tiny handful ever had the courage to confide in him – even when their information would have done him a world of good.
That’s the price of trying to project an invulnerable image. People really struggle to trust you, and in a low-trust culture, high performance is rare or non-existent.
In contrast, high-trust cultures encourage people to reach out to one another, support one another, help one another – with people constantly going beyond the demands of compliance to achieve optimum interactions and outcomes.
So how do you build high-trust cultures? Paradoxically, it requires leaders to be vulnerable. As a wise man once said, “Often your greatest weaknesses turn out to be your greatest strengths.”
One study shows that 43.47% of positional leaders have no problem being vulnerable with their team members. But another 39.93%, that’s nearly four in 10, only occasionally let themselves be vulnerable -- and then only in small ways.
Another 12.5% say it’s rare that they let themselves be vulnerable, and another 4.10% admit: “I play everything close to the vest and expose nothing.”
Research shows that’s not the best strategy.
“Opening up to your team members and sharing who you really are helps them understand why and how you make decisions as well as what you value. Armed with that knowledge, they can better predict your behaviors, which is a foundation of trust,” says Mike Figliuolo, managing director of ThoughtLeaders.
Figliuolo, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and author of three leadership books, advises: “If you make yourself vulnerable first, they're also more likely to share their thoughts, hopes and fears, which enables you to lead and serve them better.”
Figliuolo is not telling people to come off as needy and whiney. Instead, he urges you to focus on simplicity and “share who you really are ... The easier it is to understand you, the easier it is to trust you.”
Of course, to be yourself you have to trust yourself. And the best way we know for you to be able to do that is to wrap yourself in the assurance of God’s unconditional love for you. When your sense of worth is grounded in God’s love instead of your own performance, you can be much more relaxed about who you are and how you can build trust.