Finding strength in vulnerability: The positive power of authenticity
When I first began managing a team of associates, I was promoted to a position where I was overseeing people who were previously my peers. That made it very challenging and – honestly – a little scary. Was I too transparent? Would I need to be a different person now? Should I put a barrier between the people who were my colleagues and my friends?
Of course, to some extent I did need to be more professional and “hands off” in my dealings with team members because now we had a different relationship. But I also realized that I could use my desire to be honest and forthright as a strength instead of viewing it as something to overcome. And I have since found that many of my management colleagues hold similar views about building strong relationships through this kind of authenticity.
But what do I mean by authenticity? And, how can it strengthen your team and client relationships?
Take Rosey Grier, for example
For Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome, ex-NFL linebacker Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier is the epitome of authenticity.1 Grier was one of the LA Rams’ “fearsome foursome” in the 1960s. But the 300-pound, 6’5” football player, actor, bodyguard and minister also had another passion, says Pasricha.
In his deeply authentic self, he also loved needlepoint. He loved knitting. He said that it calmed him down, it relaxed him, it took away his fear of flying and helped him meet chicks. He even put out a book called “Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men”.
Rosey Grier is what authenticity is all about says Pasricha. “It’s just about being you and being cool with that.”
The courage to be imperfect
At the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, research professor Brené Brown spent the last decade studying people who feel fulfilled and successful – and those who didn’t. Her conclusion is similar to Pasricha’s: The happiest people are those who embrace authenticity – the courage to be vulnerable and imperfect, “to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.”2
When we realize that it’s okay to let ourselves be comfortable in our own skin, we’re more capable of understanding and listening to others, concludes Brown. “We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”
Importance of feeling safe
We’re also more likely to form more productive, high functioning teams. According to Project Aristotle at Google, the most successful teams were not those with greater diversity or more expert members, but those where everyone felt psychologically safe.
And being authentic was a big part of feeling safe. Here’s how Charles Duhigg put it in his recent New York Times piece about Project Aristotle:
..to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency.
Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.
For me, being honest and straightforward – even a little bit vulnerable sometimes – in dealings with my team and with our clients helps me forge much better relationships. I can show that I care about my team on a personal level rather than being distant and unapproachable. Ultimately, I believe this allows my team to trust me. And that, in turn, keeps the lines of communication open so I hear the bad news as well as the good.
I find this is true with clients, too. If you can be sincere, honest and forthright in your dealings and not skirt the issues or hedge too much, you can build a much stronger base for your communications.
1Source: Neil Pasricha, The 3 A’s of awesome, TEDxToronto, September 2010. http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_pasricha_the_3_a_s_of_awesome
2Source: Brené Brown, The power of vulnerability, TEDxHouston, June 2010 https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability
3Source: Charles Duhigg, What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, Feb. 25, 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?emc=eta1&_r=0]
About Sasha Greco
Sasha Greco is the Director of Professional Services for XTRAC Solutions, leading a team responsible for implementing XTRAC to new clients as well as enhancing existing implementations. She has an M.Phil in Psychology from St. Andrews University in Scotland, and a BA from the University of Richmond. Sasha has over 16 years of consulting and Business Process Management experience at XTRAC and Fidelity Investments. In her spare time she is an avid traveler. She is very excited about an upcoming safari in Tanzania later in 2016, and visiting her sixth continent to see friends in Australia in 2017. Sasha lives in Jersey City, NJ with her husband and two adorable yet tyrannical cats.