The Way Leaders Are Programmed

Posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 in Interpersonal Skills, Leadership

“In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another. The vulnerabilities I’m referring to include weaknesses, skills deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes and requests for help.”

–Patrick Lencioni, Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Last month I facilitated a session on high performing teams for Leadership Santa Fe, a 9-month community leadership program that includes leaders from the public and private sectors.

I showed a power point slide with Lencioni’s quote and talked about what leaders must do to build trusting teams. I said the leader must model the way. The most important action a leader must take is to demonstrate vulnerability first.

Bob, a stock market investor, raised his hand and said that he agreed with me “but what makes it hard is that this is not the way we are programmed.”

By “we” Bob was referring to male leaders. Men are programmed to think of vulnerability as weakness. Our cultural norm doesn’t see it as strength. Many of our celebrated cultural heroes are tough guys, Rambo-like figures.

We are taught not to wear our hearts on our sleeves. We are taught to keep a distance in case you have to fire someone or cut a bunch of jobs.

The costs of this thinking are enormous. On a personal level, costs are isolation and the erosion of the leader’s humanity.

On a team and group level, the cost is a dysfunctional, fragmented team.

On an organizational level, the cost is lower performance and on a community level the cost is a frayed community. As Meg Wheatley has said, “problems are a symptom of the breakdown of community.”

Demonstrating that vulnerability is an actual value and not an espoused value means that a leader must risk losing face in front of the team, group, organization or community. This is the only way subordinates and community members will take the same risk themselves.

Image: Rambo

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