Role-modelling vulnerability

I understand now that the vulnerability I’ve always felt is the greatest strength a person can have.

Elizabeth Shue

Conference attendance checklist

  • Sit in rows and cross arms

  • Look for aspects of presentations that you disagree with and shake head in response

  • Ask an aggressively critical question

Conference presentation checklist

  • Avoid talking about mistakes

  • Intimidate with jargon and technical terms

  • Go on the offensive in response to any questions

Is this a hackneyed version of the conference presenter and attendee interaction or do you still experience that impenetrable masquerade of perfection from the speakers combined with a combative style from the audience? Do you get that sinking feeling when you watch someone you respect present and you don’t feel as though you’re worth anything by the end of the session? Or is it a deeper sense of suspicion that what you’re hearing is different from what you know of that person? Here we find a superficial parade of capability and a discrepancy with authenticity that create a disconnect between giver and receiver.

The receiver can come away from such an exchange deflated, disempowered and intimidated. The giver has put up a shield to protect rather than present an opportunity to grow personally, but also to develop ability and mind-set in others.

Whether it’s conferences, manager and employee, coach and athlete, parent and child, or as subtle as slightly more experienced colleague and experienced colleague – there is a dynamic of role modelling vulnerability that we all need to be mindful in order to equip and support people through tough times.

In nurturing teams Lencioni talked about the importance of a foundation of trust – of which invulnerability is the corollary. If a leader or person in a position of responsibility takes an opportunity to demonstrate a chink in the armour it can have an empathic effect of inspiring and emboldening people around them. This has to be carefully managed so that the leader does not lose credibility, is a source of moaning or excessive negative criticism. But can be infectious in changing the dynamic of ego and attack; to honesty and support. Think about a person that you respect and imagine them saying;

“I don’t have all the answers. What do you think I should do?”

“I am not sure how to approach this problem, let’s develop the solution together”

How do you get started with this? Take an opportunity, whether you lead or manage others or are looking for guidance from management and leadership to ask for feedback. So whether it is a presentation, interaction in a meeting, asking questions in a class – request some comment and input about how you got on. My top tip here is to avoid ‘How’ questions;

“How did I get on today?”

This often gives the opportunity to give non-descript feedback, “You were great”

Instead ask ‘What’ questions;

“What could I have done differently today?”

“What would have made my communication more effective today?”

This requires specifics that will also conjure up the sense that the giver of the feedback has helped, and shown that the receiver is open-minded, has a growth mind-set and shows it’s ok to be less than perfect.

Role-modelling vulnerability is a critical aspect of nurturing psychological safety in teams – so team, in that spirit let me know what you think of these blogs. Specifically, what can I do to make them more useful for you?

Steve – here’s some feedback

About steveingham

Dr Steve Ingham is one of the UK’s leading figures in sport and one of the world’s leading performance scientists. He is steeped in high performance and has been integral to the development of Britain into an Olympic superpower. He has provided support to over 1000 athletes, of which over 200 have achieved World or Olympic medal success, including some of the world’s greatest athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Steve has coached Kelly Sotherton's running for heptathlon and to 4x400m Olympic medal winning success. Steve has worked at the English Sports Council British Olympic Association, English Institute of Sport, where Steve was the Director of Science and Technical Development, leading a team of 200 scientists in support of Team GB and Paralympics GB. Ingham holds a BSc, PhD and is a Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Steve is author of the best selling ‘How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete’, discussing and inspiring the importance of learning and adapting to reach our maximum potential. Steve established Supporting Champions with the ambition of helping ambitious people to find a better way of creating high-performance. Steve hosts the Supporting Champions Podcast on sharing his pursuit of understanding and exploration in performance.

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