Vulnerability, Authenticity & High Performance Teams

Posted by Jason O. Harris on May 13, 2019 8:31:00 PM

How many times in the last 6-12 months have you heard words like authentic and vulnerability? Have you gotten tired of hearing these words? Are you wondering if there’s really anything to these words? Oh, and how in the wide world is being vulnerable going to help me to cultivate a high-performance team in my organization?

Well, I recently attended a leadership retreat and I walked away full…full of grace and full of understanding. This grace and understanding, surprisingly, extended beyond my board service and well into my personal life. Allow me to share a few nuggets I learned on this journey.

Often, I am afforded opportunities to attend leadership retreats and some people might look at them as opportunities to be vulnerable, opportunities to get to know the people they there are around or just opportunities to become a better leader, and perhaps, a better person.

I recently attended a retreat with board members for an association whose board I sit on. What was surprisingly amazing about this weekend was that it was only a day and a half, but it provided such an opportunity to learn and such an opportunity to grow.

One of the initial things we did as we started the weekend was to lay out what our expectations were and outline what we, the board members, wanted to accomplish over this short weekend. Out of nowhere, I spoke up, surprising myself in the process. I suggested, amongst the many other phenomenal ideas, that everyone would be willing and committed to being vulnerable, open and honest.

And as I reflect, I realize that being open, honest, and vulnerable is an immensely challenging idea. Who wants to open up and share something that might lead to being judged, or worst, ostracized?

I had to reflect and look at the idea of vulnerability and the challenge it brings, and I'm the one who asked, I could only begin to imagine what it meant for others to actually take the time to be open, honest, and vulnerable.

And so in an effort to provide context and understanding, I'll jump forward and say that this weekend was amazing. There was so much that I learned and there was so much trust that was built, in such a short period of time, with this board of directors with this group, within this organization.

More importantly, there were some things that I learned as I consciously committed to being vulnerable. One of the things that I realized was that being vulnerable, and I think we all know this, being vulnerable is a very scary idea.  Vulnerability is scary because it would open up a piece and part of me to others that I am not only accustomed to sharing. Truth be told, there's multiple parts of me, and maybe others feel the same way, that I am terrified and afraid to open up and share.

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Maybe I'm afraid to open up and share this part of me because I don't want someone to misinterpret me. Maybe I'm afraid and fearful to open up and share this part of me because I don't want someone to judge me and maybe I'm afraid or fearful and concerned that the once I do that someone does judge me and they don't look at me the same way as they looked at me prior to me becoming vulnerable. I'm just used to people looking at me a certain way. People look at me as this happy go lucky, jovial guy. All the while I have the same or similar challenges that everyone else in the room might be going through and I have my own unique challenges. But as I reflect on the weekend, I realized that being vulnerable with those you're planning to work with those you are committing to work with, is so priceless. It's something that is such a treasure and I was given that gift once again over this weekend as a part of this leadership retreat.

At the end of the day I realized that I had opened myself up and I said a few things and I realized that I offered something and shared something that people had never really seen or heard from me. And once I did that, I actually became so much more afraid that they would look at me as such a different way and that they will be going to judge me. But what I walked away with was the feeling of acceptance at a higher level. The feeling of respect from my perspective, my opinion and my personality at a higher level. And what I walked away with was that people loved me even more.

And it was interesting because I was afraid to share a piece of me and afraid to be vulnerable because I thought that they would love me less. I thought that they would look at me as less because of sharing a more intimate part of who I am and more intimate part of my thoughts because that's who I am and that's what I live with. And I struggle with too. I shared and I typically, I typically keep people at bay and keep people away from really getting to know me.

And so then when I reflect on what it takes on an air crew to succeed and what it takes in the military and how we do things, part of that process and part of that trusting the people is we get to know each other in the military. We get to know each other at a more deeper core level because we are with each other all the time, you know, and that ideal when you're forced to be amongst and with people in the heat of battle, in any kind of combat situation or life or the types of situations, these bonds that grow exponentially.

That's what we have in the military.
I realized and learned is that these retreats, these opportunities to be vulnerable, are much like my experiences in the high performing military teams I have worked with. 

No, it's not combat, but it gives us an opportunity to know each other at a deeper level, at the core of who we really are as individuals and how we can work together as a team to be better and to become a high performing team. It gives us an opportunity to really appreciate each other for who we are, and it gave me an opportunity to share more with them, not for them to judge me, but for them to love me so much more for who I am. For that, I am so thankful. That was a gift that was given to me this weekend,  the idea of being willing to be committed to the people, with an understanding that when they know more about me and I know more about them, we are that much more prepared to become the high performing team that we have all been called to be and that we've been destined to be.

This board of directors has a huge undertaking and the amazing thing is that everyone shared something. Even if it was the smallest thing, everyone was a bit more vulnerable. And in that vulnerability came authenticity. Out of that experience was the gift to allow us to learn to love each other more and to learn to love each other better, stronger, and to always show up with our true, best, authentic self. For that gift, I'm thankful.

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The Challenge: The next time you attend a retreat or have an opportunity to be authentic and vulnerable with your team, take advantage of that opportunity. Realize that it's okay to be afraid. Realize that it's okay to be fearful and concerned about sharing, and then commit to open up to the possibilities of it, the possibilities of the experience making you a better person and making the team better as a result of knowing, understanding and appreciating each other for who you are. Appreciating the differences for the collective good that everyone is there to do, to be that high-performance team.

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