For some time, I have been considering the connection between vulnerability and trust. I have been exploring the need for vulnerability to generate trust. My thinking has been that someone needs to make himself/herself vulnerable in order for trust to be formed. When I go out on a branch and hand you the saw, the opportunity for trust is created. Some recent reading has reinforced the role of vulnerability and added a focus on caring. We know that trust is critical for teams and organizations to function at high levels. We constantly are reminded that as leaders we need to “build trust”. The question is what leadership actions are likely to cause trust to form.
Gifford Thomas posted Great Leaders Have a Caring Heart, Here’s Why, where he illustrated the importance of caring. Thomas pointed to an article titled, The Three L’s of Leadership: Love, Listen and Leap, by Kevin Cashman, who shares that caring is a “…compelling force for achieving goals against overwhelming odds. It is the substance that unifies teams, builds collaborative cultures, fosters meaningful commitment, and bonds people to an organization. It renews more and more as we spend it. When people know that a leader cares, know that a leader is in it for them, great things are possible.”
Thomas also led me to the article, The Caring Leader, by Gayle Hardie. She describes a caring leader as someone who:
- Has a genuine interest in others with a desire to better know the people working with him because he wants to encourage them to be the best they can be.
- Is aware of the small things in that she notices a change in the mood and inquires after their well-being with open, generative questions.
- Sees the importance of building confidence in people enabling them to find their own way – to be the best they can be.
Caring leaders don’t care because they think they should or because they see caring as part of their role. They care because it is a part of who they are.
Hardie offers an interesting place to begin extending one’s caring; explore what your response is when someone shows you caring. “Is your automatic response to reject that care, to push it away? Is it to turn your back and to question their motives? Is it to try and be ‘brave’, suggesting that you don’t need their concern?” These responses can indicate a desire to show strength and self-reliance over an openness to a relationship.
As I considered her question about how one responds to “being cared for” it made a connection for me to vulnerability. Accepting another’s caring means being vulnerable. Showing my vulnerability communicates trust.
I read Trust First by Bruce Deel, the founder of the City of Refuge, a transitional housing center in Atlanta with medical and mental health, child-care, and vocational training. Deel suggests that today we are ‘trust challenged’ and thus increasingly hesitant to share our hearts, extending the benefit of doubt. “Trusting people that we don’t know well requires us to humble ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable.”
As I read the following, I thought of many school examples:
“So much time and money is wasted when, facing a trust crisis, we naively attempt to substitute relentless documentation. It’s hard to stay focused on doing a job well when you are constantly being subjected to new, more onerous methods to prove that you did. Initiative is lost under a pile of paperwork. Leaders who distrust their people inevitably see them fall to the level of their expectations.”
As school leaders recognize the need for increasing trust in their school’s culture, they can begin by considering the conscious and unconscious actions that they personally take that communicate caring and vulnerability. A starting point is to consider the degree to which one “knows” the people you serve as leader. In an earlier post I explored the importance of “knowing” for school leaders and teachers.
Trust might make a great topic for discussion at your next leadership team meeting. Where is caring and vulnerability present among the leadership team? When are the times that members feel trusted? Are there times when as a team we are trust challenged? How might building trust within the leadership team increase trust among the staff, students, parents?
- Care – “Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.” (Richard Branson)
- Vulnerability – “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” (Madeline L’Engle)
- Trust – “Trusting someone doesn’t mean trusting that they won’t screw up, because they will, as you will. You simply trust them to do their best before, during, and after.” (Bruce Deel)