Vulnerability: The Core of Trust

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

Trust is a key to accomplishment through relationships.  I’ve said before that trust lubricates relationships.  Trust provides the necessary ingredianets to enable people to work together as a team. Trust eliminates friction, gives room to move and enables everyone to perform at their best. Trust isn’t the only key to successful teams, but very few teams succeed without trust.

In thinking of trust, it seems one of the key ingredients of trust is vulnerability. We trust people who we believe spend their energy for our mutual benefit. We all operate for our own benefit, but we trust people who have some energy for us.

We all must manage our appearance.  We workout, brush our teeth, comb our hair (or our former hair). We try to make ourselves presentable.  But we also have radar for how much energy people spend on us.  If our teammates spend all their energy on themselves, we become skeptical when they tell us they’re for us. We get skeptical if people spend all their time managing their appearance, promoting themselves, or making themselves look good.  When we perceive others to only be “in it for themselves,” we withhold trust.

Remember the old (and renewed) Star Trek series. On the Starship Enterprise, energy was used to support life systems, propel the ship through space, fire the weapons and support the defensive shields.  If the shields were up and active, the ship consumed more energy and was less able to maneuver.

Vulnerability is operating with your defensive shields down. If your shields are up, we don’t trust you. When your shields are down, you’re free to use all of your energy in service to others.

As leaders, operating with our shields down means we’re free to do what’s best for everyone around us. Operating with our shields down means spending our best energy to make others successful. We bring our best self and our best energy to serve our team, our customers or our friends. We become a peer, an encourager and someone who is free to truly empathize with our team. We make our team better and that makes us the best leader we can be.

So this week, resist the temptation to protect yourself by managing your presentation, trying to look like the boss or always being right. Be as vulnerable and transparent as you can. Your best energy will make you much more beneficial and helpful to others.  And they’ll grow more, and succeed better with your help.

Special Thanks to Inès Mahjoub and Richard LaRue for prompting me to think about vulnerability.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mary C Schaefer  |  05 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Mike, what an important point -the connection between trust (such an important component of effective leadership and teamwork) and vulnerability.

I LOVE the analogy with how the Starship Enterrprise works. “If the shields were up and active, the ship consumed more energy and was less able to maneuver.” What a great way to describe to people the impact of guardedness vs vulnerability.

Great post today!

Mike Henry  |  05 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Thanks Mary. Much appreciated. Thanks for all the great comments, lately. I appreciate the encouragement. Mike…

Randy Conley  |  05 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Great Star Trek analogy Mike! Vulnerability is crucial to building trust. By it’s very definition trust involves risk, and risk involves vulnerability. You can’t trust someone without being vulnerable, and conversely, you can’t be trustworthy without extending a little vulnerability.

To me, operating with your “shields down” means you get your ego out of the way by being real and genuine – authentic – with people. That lowers suspicion and defensiveness and allows people to trust you more readily.

I’m going to operate with my “shields down” today! Thanks for the advice, Captain!


Mike Henry  |  05 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Thanks for the note Randy. Suspicion is a great friction-enhancer. I need to remember that word for what happens. My shields make others suspicious. The analogy just keeps going. Thanks again. Mike…

Ruth Schwartz  |  05 Nov 2013  |  Reply

I love your vulnerability message and the shields metaphor… but I thank you for the “making others successful” moment. It is my mantra. I believe that is why we follow and are follow. We want to share in each others victories. What is more vulnerable than that? Thanks for the post, Mike

Mike Henry  |  05 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Thanks Ruth for the encouraging comment. When people realize we’re “in it for them, as well as ourselves,” everyone relaxes more and performs better. Thanks again for the great comment. Mike…

Deb Costello  |  06 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Most people operate with shields up… if we’re vulnerable, we could be attacked, hurt, or proven wrong. But of course that will happen anyway. What you do next, in the face of failure or attack says much about who you are.

I love Star Trek and watch it often. Interestingly, their default position is shields down. Trust in the inherent goodness of the universe is their default.

What if it was ours?

Mike Henry  |  09 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Great question Deb. I want my default position to be shields down too. Thanks for the comment. Mike…

Chery Gegelman  |  12 Nov 2013  |  Reply

Great post Mike! I loved everything about it from the core message to the Star Trek analogy to your reference to hair!

As I read it I thought of times I have not been vulnerable, to times I have been. Amazing how sometimes being vulnerable feels so natural and other times almost terrifying!

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