Scott Hackman, Partner & Family Business Advisor

Some evenings you will find me, quiet, sitting in the dark as my four-year old daughter falls asleep. It’s hard for me to sit, inactive. But as I wait, open and vulnerable to her needs, she is able to find peace and restful sleep. Because my wife and I invest this time with her, her trust in our relationship grows. In turn, we grow together as a healthy family.

Vulnerability-based trust is also key to growing relationships with spouses, leadership teams, successors, and management groups. Too many leaders in family businesses spend leadership energy “firefighting,” or reacting to problems. Others fear that practicing vulnerability-based trust may be too costly for their key relationships. However, this discipline is a critical element of leading a successful business.

Lencioni defines vulnerability-based trust as a place where leaders, “comfortably and quickly acknowledge, without provocation, their mistakes, weaknesses, failures, and needs for help. They also recognize the strengths of others, even when those strengths exceed their own.” As a result, leaders can confidently model and provide space for vulnerability and trust in the boardroom and around the dinner table. As leaders invite individuals to share their perspective of the issues needing resolution, they build more commitment and accountability to the team’s shared vision.

Research on fearless conversations reveals how this practice leads teams to success through higher levels of commitment, role clarity, and peer accountability. In her research on vulnerability and shame, Brene Brown describes why people hold back and mask their pain. One reason is uncertainty, the ambiguous grey space between not being enough or having enough, and enough. Leaders combat the perpetual request for more all day, from their financial reports, their board meetings, and their employee meetings. So how do leaders use vulnerability-based trust to build a sense of enough?

They begin by identifying the internal and external voices blocking their way forward:
• What are the voices of judgment, doubt, and fear?
• What are the voices saying? (Ex: They won’t listen to you… You are going to run out of money, etc.)
• Are any of those things really true?

They articulate their desired outcomes and feelings surrounding an issue and invite key relationships in management, family, and others to discuss the issue:
• What is the key decision that needs to be made?
• Can we identify all the desired outcomes in the room?
• Can we name all the possible solutions?
• What are the positive and negative consequences of each solution?

Embracing Discomfort

For our family, trust is built through our night-time rituals. My wife and I invest the time in our children, even when it is hard to sit quietly and wait. For business leaders, vulnerability-based trust is a key building block that leads to healthy leadership teams. It therefore takes courage to step into vulnerability and discomfort, to admit to uncertainty, and to invest in constructive conflict. But it is essential for higher levels of commitment and accountability, for success as a cohesive team.

In conclusion, if you want to learn more, read The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and join me at our March 13th FORUM where you will hear from Doug Clemens, Clemens Food Group. Furthermore, I will facilitate a brief workshop using our Yuck to Amazing™ tool for building a cohesive leadership team in your management, family, and ownership group.

If you are interested in building a cohesive leadership team, please contact us at 215.723.8413.


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