We live in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (V.U.C.A.). Because of this the way we work is rapidly changing. Old ridged hierarchical organizational structures are being consigned to the history books, giving way to fluid and collaborative project based teams. In this new world of work, the ability to gain and maintain employees’ trust is crucial for leadership success. If a leader isn’t trusted by their team then they’ll never achieve their full potential regardless of their business acumen, soft skills, vision, and strategy nous. Leaders are no longer able to trust in positional power as the ultimate source of influence - instead, they must rely on the power of trust.

Gaining and Maintaining Trust

Leaders are trusted when staff are confident in both the leaders’ character (honesty and integrity) and competence (ability to achieve results). Showing vulnerability is one of the most effective ways for leaders to build trust. Opening up about uncertainties, flaws, and past failures can also be one of the most difficult tasks for many leaders, as it seems directly counter to everything they have ever learned about being a strong, competent and capable leader. When leaders appropriately share their vulnerabilities they:

  • Show thorough their behaviour that they trust their staff.
  • Demonstrate that they are reflective and have learned through their past experiences, and are open to new perspectives.
  • Create an environment where it is likely that staff will reciprocate by sharing their vulnerabilities, increasing trust within the team overall.

Showing vulnerability is NOT sharing for the sake of sharing

Demonstrating vulnerability as a leader is not about putting all of your fears and failings out there for the world to judge. Vulnerability should only be expressed to the extent that it’s helpful to the situation and your team.

Imagine a first time pilot addressing her passengers over the intercom …“Ladies and gentleman this is your captain speaking, this is my first ever flight and I'm a little nervous today”… This expression of vulnerability probably wouldn’t help improve the passengers’ experience of the flight, and would likely ensure that they paid extra attention to the evacuation procedures. However, the same pilot many years later sharing her feelings of uncertainty from when she was a new pilot and how she overcame these in front of a class of aspiring pilots would in all likelihood quickly put the class at ease, and build trust within the student teacher relationship.

Becoming Comfortable with Vulnerability

Even with the understanding that showing vulnerability isn’t about the indiscriminate “sharing of dirty laundry” it can still (understandably) be difficult for many leaders to begin to share their vulnerabilities. Becoming comfortable with sharing vulnerabilities is about recognising that having vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s human (everyone has their flaws), and sharing vulnerability is courageous - trust us.


HR Business Direction can assist you to build trust within your team.

Alistair Kerr, MPsychOrg; PostGradDip Psych; BPsych

Organisaitonal Development Strategist | Psychologist


07 3890 2066


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