The power of vulnerability: 3 phrases that enhance collaboration

Written by Lindsay K. Beers, M. Sc., Consultant
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

As leaders, we have the power to decide the direction that our organizations are moving in, the power to determine the strategy our team is going to adopt, and the power to do what we believe is best for our organizations and our teams. This is a privilege and an honor.

With that power, however, all-too-frequently comes several assumptions; we believe we must independently generate and drive innovations, serve as subject-matter experts, and know the solutions to emerging problems. Such assumptions establish unrealistic expectations, limit the opportunity to exchange ideas and perspectives, hinder the camaraderie that is formed when teams tackle challenges together, and make us feel we must be invulnerable. As leaders, there are three powerful phrases we can build into our practices to reduce self-dependence and enhance collaboration.

1. “I don’t know.”

Think of a time when a leader you admire admitted to not knowing something. Did you think less of them, or did you appreciate their honesty and authenticity? It is likely the latter, even if those thoughts weren’t conscious at the time. So why is it that we often fear we will appear less qualified or competent if we say these three words? As leaders, it is not our duty to be all-knowing. In fact, practicing intellectual humility among our peers allows us (and our organizations) to reap numerous benefits. By responding with “I don’t know,” we refrain from sharing information that isn’t rooted in truth, we open our minds to adopting new approaches and innovations which may not have otherwise been considered, and we give our colleagues and team members the opportunity to share their expertise and advice by asking others about their thoughts, thereby elevating their confidence and engagement. In sum, when we are honest about what we know and don’t know, ask good questions, and involve the appropriate people in the exploration and decision-making process, we enhance both the view of our leadership and the quality of our decisions.

2. “I don’t understand.”

How many times have you been at a conference table (or more recently, in a virtual meeting), silently nodding your head along with the discussion while questions storm through your mind? This can impact us as individuals and limit the efficiency and effectiveness of the group’s progress as a whole. By voicing “I don’t understand,” we can expand our knowledge, can more accurately gauge our stance on a matter, and can determine how we (or our team members) can contribute to a process or project. Furthermore, by speaking up, we voice the thoughts or concerns which may similarly be held captive in our peers’ minds. This leads to a more open and clear discussion and shows others that they are in a safe space to be vulnerable as well. Given the pace the world is operating at today, it is inevitable there will be topics we are less knowledgeable on and approaches we are unfamiliar with; don’t hesitate to pause the conversation for thoughtful questions when uncertainty arises.

3. “I need help.”

This third phrase has the power to invite collaboration, inspiration, and trust among colleagues. All too often, however, the fear of being vulnerable prevents us from realizing this and admitting it to others. As a result, our plates pile up with an abundance of to-dos and tasks which could be better delegated. As leaders, we often believe we have to be self-sufficient and independently decisive to gain the respect of others, when in fact, the opposite is true; when we ask others for help, the benefits are two-fold – our relationships grow more intimate (as we express our interest in hearing our colleagues’ ideas and perspectives), and the solutions we generate grow more interesting.

As leaders, we need to challenge ourselves to prioritize our efforts in collaboration and delegation above our self-pride. Though building these phrases into our daily practices may take practice and push us to overcome fear, they allow us to reap the great ideas and intelligence that surrounds us, and therefore, the opportunity to grow and be our most creative selves and inspiring leaders.

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