“When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer.” –Patrick Lencioni
Wes Gipe, founder of Agil IT, knows this quote all too well. At one point in time, Wes explains, “[we] had plenty of conflict, but we didn’t have very much trust, and so there’s wasn’t a lot of pursuit of truth, it was more pursuit of individual agendas.”
Wes says to cultivate trust for better relationships, he learned that as a leader, it was up to him go first. “When there’s a lack of trust, you go first—that’s what you do,” he says.
Give Trust Away First
“As a business owner, and particularly one that hadn’t been involved in a lot of other businesses prior to starting my own, I had this picture in my mind about what a leader should be, and it turns out that picture was not at all accurate,” shares Wes. Wes believed that a leader had to be strong, forceful, and know all the answers, at all times.
“I had this view of the captain on the horse, the old war photos, his sword at his side—that was my mental picture of what a leader looked like and was supposed to be,” shares Wes.
As a result of that mental picture, Wes says he covered up his weaknesses and failures. Instead of being open about mistakes, he tried to avoid sharing anything he had done that didn’t work out as intended. “As result of that, I missed out on this tremendous opportunity to connect with these people in an authentic way.”
Are Your People Afraid of You?
In some ways, his approach worked, and his people thought he was superhuman at times. But Wes was able to realize his team was afraid of him, too. There they were, with their own challenges and failures, but they thought he always had it together.
“These people that I care so much about, were afraid of me, and I just could not get my head wrapped around it. I could not understand it.”
It turns out that the reason they were afraid of Wes was partially because he had never communicated his own failures and lessons learned from his mistakes. He had never shown that vulnerability to them.
“They believed I was better than they were, and that just couldn’t be further from the truth. I had made every mistake they had made, at least once, and unfortunately, some of them several times,” he says.
The Power of Vulnerability
“When I began to open up, and share the folly along with the wisdom and the mistakes along with the successes, and the failures that I experienced, people began to respond with openness of their own.”
By showing his people he trusted them enough to open up to them, Wes began an evolution of his company’s culture. Team members saw Wes’ transparency as strength, and they began to share their own doubts, weaknesses, and challenges with one another. “I was afraid that if I revealed these things that no one would follow me,” says Wes. “What I learned was that the more I revealed, the more they followed.”
Vulnerability Drives Authenticity
“I had to go first,” says Wes, sharing that the culture change process probably took three to four years to get to a point where people felt a strong sense of trust at work.
“What we saw was as people came out of their shells and became themselves, they became willing to just be radically authentic,” Wes says.
“We moved the ball forward so much faster. We go so much more done when people were able just to put themselves out there, focus on the work, and pull together.”
How Do You Show Vulnerability?
What do you do as a business owner to engender trust in your organization? What are some of the “low risk” ways you’ve shown your people vulnerability? Let us know at @aileron_org and make sure your comment is not set to “private” so we can share your story!