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I was recently leading a session on cross-cultural leadership with 25 mission agency staff from Brazil. As I spoke about the potential pitfalls and methods of preventing cultural mistakes, the chairman of the board whispered me a question, “Can I share with the group the email that you sent the board earlier this year?”
I stopped, and quickly considered it. I had sent an email a while back carefully explaining our consulting requirements. It turned out that people reading my email completely misunderstood my intentions. So I agreed (slightly reluctantly). To my surprise the chairman had a copy of my email with him and proceeded to read it out, but without mentioning any names. The entire group howled with laughter that a mission leader could have sent such an email.
After the laughter died down I dared to admit out loud, “I was the one that sent the email.”
Stunned silence. I continued facilitating. From that moment on our discussions got deeper and more open.
I thought about this afterwards. Why had I dared to be vulnerable? I realized that it was only because we had worked together before, and we trusted each other. What difference had it made? I realized that after the “confession” the trust level deepened and our discussions also deepened. Research backs up both observations:
- Vulnerability and transparency are stronger when trust already exists.
- Vulnerability and transparency can deepen trust.
But … what about when there is no trust, either because something has occurred to break trust, or where there is no history to establish trust?
- Are we willing to be vulnerable, to be transparent in those situations?
- What stories can we share with others that allow us to be vulnerable, that can create that first spark of trust?
Sometimes vulnerability is equated with weakness (1 Cor. 8:9) or unsteadiness of faith (2 Pet. 2:14), whereas Clinton uses the meaning of being open and susceptible to emotional attack or harm. There is great risk to a leader when applying this skill without wisdom and care.
Have you ever used vulnerability to open a line of communication? What happened? Did greater trust ensue?