#96 The Leader Goes First: Vulnerability Starts At The Top

I spoke to a group a couple weeks ago and one of the topics covered was vulnerability. In that talk I shared how I almost turned down the best job of my career because I refused to be vulnerable. I’ve written about this before, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to talk about it in person.

I was wrong.


The story is now 26 years old and I still almost broke while I was telling it. My feelings were a combination of “wow I’m grateful to my wife for saving my ass on this one”. And “wow I hate being vulnerable and admitting how stupid I almost was”.

So I learned that being vulnerable in person is ten times harder than being vulnerable in a blog post. To the point that it took me three days before I was willing to watch a video of the talk. And, as expected, I cringed watching myself take those long pauses where I was on the edge. 

And then my kids (14 to 25 years old) wanted to watch the talk. I put them off for over a week, but finally queued it up on the living room TV. Then I left the room - dads aren't supposed to be seen being vulnerable. 


So vulnerability goes against every cell in my body. But, it also seems to be on everyone’s “must do” list if you want a better business and better life.

For instance, in past posts I’ve peppered you with quotes from Brené Brown, the queen of vulnerability. And then, as I was re-reading The Five Dysfunctions of A Team for my last post, I came across this advice from author Patrick Lencioni (page 201)…

“The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires that a leader risk losing face in front of the team, so that subordinates will take the same risk themselves.”

Vulnerability, vulnerability, vulnerability - it’s everywhere. And it’s time we figured out a safe way to introduce this important concept at the office.


Here's an idea I've read about in multiple places and that I’ve also personally used.

Have the members of your management team take a personality test. I would suggest a well-known one like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There are lots of experts that will tell you this test has flaws, but for this application it doesn't matter. [Grab a free knock off version online or pay to do the real thing from a certified practitioner.] I'm only using it as a catalyst for deeper conversation. A safe way to get beyond the surface level crap like the weather or sports scores.

So each person takes the test and is labeled as one of 16 personality types. Once you have that label you'll find tons of resources online that describe your type.

For instance, I’m what’s known as an INTJ.  And here's a description of INTJ that I patched together from several different sites.

INTJ's need to know why things are the way they are. Skeptical. Demand clarity. Prefer autonomy and dislike routine. Prefer facts and logic so can come off as insensitive or cold. Tend to be private people. Not much for small talk but won't shut up on topics that interest them. High work standards. Not likely to be quick to praise.

So each member of the management team prints out a summary of their type and distributes it to the team members. Then you sit around a table and take turns sharing your type and its description. And there are only two rules you have to play by.

Number one, the business owner must go first. You must be the vulnerability guinea pig.

Number two, you must be quiet while the team discusses you.  Your job is to non-defensively listen to feedback. You can take notes. You can get a pained look on your face. But find a way to keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Then move on to the next person.

Now, assuming you play by the rules and remain silent while you're being discussed, you might also want to do a closing round. Where each person gets to comment on the comments that were made about them. 

That’s all there is to it, and in my experience it’s well worth the effort. I've had folks really open up and tell me how my management style was impacting them. How they wished I would communicate more and offer more praise. Others appreciated my direct style and that they always knew where they stood.

That’s how this exercise works. If everyone is letting down their guard it's gonna be a mixed bag of good and bad. No one is perfect and all you're really trying to do is get the honest conversation flowing. Develop a little empathy and understanding toward each other.

And you don't have to worry about whether your MBTI type actually describes you. By discussing how the assigned type is not you, the team is forced to explore what is you. Right? Don't you have to know "you" to explain how something is "not you"? So whether the type is right or wrong, you still get productive conversation rolling.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

This MBTI stuff is a great vulnerability ice-breaker. It can also be a first step towards building your SELF and WORK Maps. Digging a little deeper and probing what makes you tick. And what makes your business tick.

And then, if you really want to scare yourself, stand up in front of a group of people and speak about your Map. At least for me, it was a lot harder than I expected. But I keep telling myself it’s a growth experience and I’m a big believer in growth. So I’m going to keep doing it and we'll see where it leads.

***NOTE: I've added a new section to the website. It's titled SPEAKING and it's where you'll find brief examples of talks I've given and information on how to get hold of me if you're looking for a speaker.