Showing Vulnerability to Your Community: The Ultimate Test of Trust

Leader showing vulnerability in a Community of Practice

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ― Brené Brown

There’s a ubiquitous idea among community and business leaders—hide your weakness, at any cost. 

This approach may work at times if the goal is gaining power, but it’s nearly impossible to be an effective leader of a Community of Practice (CoP) with this philosophy. As my last blog post highlighted, trust is the essential element in any Community of Practice, and the only way to gain the trust of your team is by showing vulnerability. 

A few years ago I experienced the truth of this. My husband and I worked with a realtor who promised amazing results after we saw our “dream house” that was clearly beyond our reach. Somewhat worryingly, she told us, “trust me”. 

While these words can be oversold by many a person in sales, she really meant it. She went on to describe what was basically a Community of Practice among realtors. 

She and her colleagues meet weekly in a consultancy approach where they forward their most challenging clients and, together, craft an approach to the seller that, in almost every case, gets them a winning offer. While their domain is evident (real estate) and their practice (sales) is easily defined, their sense of community that allows them to share their practice elevates their work beyond the typical realtor working one client at a time to sell one house after another. 

Their willingness to engage in a shared approach, demonstrate vulnerability (after all, there is a commission on the line), and find new ways to solve the problem of successfully matching home buyers and sellers was impressive. This vulnerability made it far easier for me to trust that I could indeed trust this realtor to find us the right home.

When building a Community of Practice (CoP) community collaborators must share their practice, and even more daringly, their struggles with their practice. In fact, a measure of effective community building is the growing sense of trust within the group. With a strong sense of community, our domain becomes our passion and purpose. Without it, our domain is as simple as the place we go to work. 

As a leader, are you ready and willing to expose your strengths and weaknesses to benefit from every member of your community? This may go against your natural inclination, but when you see how effective it is, it’s incredibly motivating.

Here are ways you can take the lead in being vulnerable with your team or CoP:

Don’t be afraid of not having all the answers. You don’t have to be the first with an idea or an answer. Be the kind of person that actively seeks out others’ input. Acknowledge that you’re not an expert on a particular topic, and then ask for help. You’ll be amazed at the positive response. 

Encourage others to take the lead in important conversations. Try to engage the perspectives and thoughts of others. Ask different people to take turns at running meetings, you’ll see a newfound commitment to the shared vision of your organization. 

Expect honest feedback. Ask for your team to give feedback on some aspect of your performance. Of course, the way in which you receive these comments will impact whether you receive sincere feedback from your team again.

Regularly engage in consultancy activities. This allows you to delve into a colleague’s shoes and see their work in new, different, and refreshing way. Like the real estate group I shared earlier, this is a deeply sustaining practice that helps colleagues, or even competitors, to become collaborators. 

Be ready to try something new. Don’t let your ego protect you from being willing to step out of your comfort zone and risk embarrassment. And when you make a mistake (not if, when) acknowledge it. You’ll gain the respect and loyalty of your team when you show the humility to admit a mistake. 

Are you intrigued by what your team could achieve as a Community of Practice? Contact me to learn how your team can develop an action-oriented model of activities and ways of communicating that drives you towards your joint purpose. Or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team to learn how to get started.

Community of practice

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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