The Advantage: Vulnerability

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

The first essential characteristic of a healthy leadership team (and ultimately a healthy church) is vulnerability.

This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” “Your idea is better than mine,” “I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,” and even, “I’m sorry.”

Now, that sounds like actual Christianity in action, right? This is how submissive, servant-hearted followers of Christ behave. All else misses the mark. All else calls for repentance.

When everyone on a team knows that everyone else is vulnerable enough to say and mean those things, and that no one is going to hide his or her weaknesses or mistakes, they develop a deep and uncommon sense of trust. They speak more freely and fearlessly with one another and don’t waste time and energy putting on airs or pretending to be someone they’re not. Over time, this creates a bond that exceeds what many people ever experience in their lives and, sometimes, unfortunately, even in their families.

Some elderships enjoy this kind of relationship. A few teams of elders and staff get there.

It’s harder when the staff is included because the elders really do have a responsibility to set the salary of and review the staff. The staff is younger. The staff works in their areas fulltime. Many on staff have never worked in the business world. Elders and staff have to work much harder to get there.

Moreover, in many churches, the elders plus staff is too big of a group to truly bond together in this sense. Or they’re near the upper limit (12, remember) and fail to do the extra work required to push back against the limitations created by the numbers.

Worse yet, when the staff is insecure (reasonably or not), they will often form close ties to each other and refuse to build close ties with the elders, for fear of being hurt or fear of being seen as too close to the “bosses” by their fellow staff members.

You can see how destructive insecurity is in relationship building. It’s just hard for an insecure person to trust others. Then again, it’s also easy to feel insecure when the elders engage in behaviors that threaten their trust.

Lencioni recommends some very practical tips for helping to bridge the gaps among team members.

First, he suggests that each member take the time to tell his personal history. It’s amazing how we can form a team, work together for years, and not know how many children our teammates have.

Just by opening up and telling some basic facts about ourselves, we transform ourselves from a visage to a person.

In addition to making people feel more comfortable being vulnerable, this discussion serves to level the playing field on the team. There is something powerful and disarming about hearing the CEO of a company talk about being bullied because he was a chubby kid or that his family struggled with grave poverty.

He next suggests that the team undertake a Myer-Briggs personality profile and then discuss the results among each other. All types have their strengths and weaknesses, and some team members will need the reinforcement of hearing about their strengths, and it’s good for anyone to honestly admit that he or she admits the weaknesses revealed in the report.

The goal is to get everyone on the team to identify and reveal those tendencies to their peers, both for the practical purpose of having them understand one another and to help them get comfortable being transparent and vulnerable about their shortcomings and limitations. When members of a leadership team willingly acknowledge their weaknesses to one another, they give their peers tacit permission to call them on those weaknesses.

Lencioni then warns us all to avoid the “fundamental attribution error.” When we see someone else mess up, we tend to question their motives. When we encounter a screaming child in a grocery store, we naturally blame the parent’s lack of discipline and rudeness. When our own child acts that way, we blame the kid’s earache.

That entirely natural human tendency needs to be presented to the team and discussed. It may well resolve some serious, lingering issues.

Finally,

Some people ask me if it’s possible for team members to be too vulnerable with one another, to leave themselves open to being hurt. My answer is no. To believe that a person on a team can be too vulnerable is really to suggest that she would be wise to withhold information about her weaknesses, mistakes, or need for help.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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9 Responses to The Advantage: Vulnerability

  1. This point about vulnerability is a good one, but requires another level of accountability in order for it to really happen. The vulnerable person must be protected at all costs by the members of the team, specifically from the
    other members of the team. If any member reacts harshly or judgmentally (or worse, gossips about it) then other individuals on the team have to come down hard on any such behavior, and do so in front of the group. A call for vulnerability puts the integrity of the team and its members on the line, and failure here may build defensive walls of distrust that can never be torn down.

  2. JOhn says:

    Great point, Charles. I appreciate your sensitivity. I think we forget in our discussions that church people can be, well, mean. This is not a blanket condemnation. It is just an acceptance of a bit of reality that exists even in a group that is supposed be ruled by compassion.

    While I think revealing personal histories is a good thing we still need to be aware that there are envious people in the church, whose jealousies are directed at the successes and tragedies of another’s life. Some desire the attention that comes from both. And the personal profile can be a bit dangerous. Not all appreciate the humility of another admitting his or her weakness in certain areas. I frightened an elder once when I said that I did not have a business mind. The look on his face caused me to back up a bit and rephrase my statement. Of course, I was much younger and a bit, no, lets say, quite insecure.

    Again, my point is leaders should be sensitive to the position that personal histories and profiles puts some people in and should always be ready to come to their aid if others are too heavy and judgemental in their response.

  3. Alabama John says:

    A person would have to be nuts to tell everyone at church how they are or have been vulnerable.
    Welcome to the real world. Human kind would interpret that wrong and memories are short on good things, but long on bad.
    Church members are still just as human as your neighbors.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    In my world living with people, It really doesn’t seem to be that hard to recognize weakness and vulnerability in another person. It also doesn’t seem that hard to recognize strengths in a person. But, when I see a person that totally refuses to accept their strengths or weakness, and attempt to live a lie, then all people around them have a problem in that they will never become close friends with an individual that they feel that they cannot trust. If you do not trust others enough to communicate on these levels others will not trust you either.

  5. Doug says:

    Before I began to worship at a CofC, I was in a number of different “accountability” groups. These groups were both same sex and mixed sex groups and all of them were very open and vulnerable inside the group. So I joined a Life Group at the CofC and right away I tried to be as vulernable as I felt comfortable being with that group of people. It quickly became apparent that my wife and I were the only ones who were going to be open and vulnerable. That was about 8 years ago and it has become very clear to both my wife and I that vulnerablity in the CofC is pretty much a no-no. I’ve been in a number of different CofC Life Groups since then and my experience has been the same in each group. I’ve drawn the conclusion that CofCers play it close to the vest and are not about to let anyone know what’s really going on in their lives. I know this is a blanket statement but it is based solely on what I’ve experienced. Sadly, I have a group that I am vulnerable with but none of them go to the CofC. I have concluded that in the CofC… you keep your sins and your problems and your thoughts to yourself. Am I completely off base on this?

  6. Alabama John says:

    No, you are spot on.

    I too have a number of ex cons that share with each other. If you did that with especially a conservative church, you MIGHT be allowed to participate by counting those present.

    Progressives might be more accepting but all I know would be afraid to try or test them to see.

    How many I know wish others would share their vulnerability and problems with them so they could help by praying for them or together, or, at least giving a shoulder to cry on, but would never want to be the one doing the sharing.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug,

    My church has both accountability groups and life groups. They are very different. The accountability groups are smaller and more confessional. They are more open. Life groups are larger — too large to really feel comfortable sharing your deepest thoughts.

    I think both kinds of groups serve a good purpose and both should be encouraged. And you can’t judge one by the standards for the other.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Is it not true that all churches both large and small contain the same type of groups that we speak of. But they most times are never officially recognized or in many cases realized, members just associate with certain other members without the control or direction of the congregation. Is it the responsibility of leadership to oversee these activities to control them or could they be allowed to conduct themselves in a Christian manner without direct supervision. My major point here is that unless one of these groups is in some way conducting themselves in an manner that will reflect a negative impact upon Christ or his Body (the church) there would be need for supervision by Elders. If there was to be identified an issue of that nature then the Elders as well as any other members that have a knowledge of any wrong doing should counsel with the offenders. But, as I am listening to the message presented, it seems very scary in the relationship that rules that the Elders and possibly the majority of the church could very easily become the rules enforced rather than the guiding word of the master Shepherd. Isn’t that exactly what transpired in history to the point of creating these denominations that have rules that cannot be found in scripture? My thoughts center around the “creating disciples”, should be leading Christians to honor the Lord and obey his words because the desire to do that, but to control anyone by any means with a concept to make them, obey what the Lord has designed for Christians to be like, is totally useless for that individual or individuals, and would be nothing but chaos for leadership. You understand that mankind throughout history has never been successfully controlled into Gods acceptance. The same thing happens in families especially with children. At some point children are totally accountable themselves. Many times I see that the church does not allow that a Christian can grow to the status of being totally accountable to the Savior, not needing the oversight of the church Elders. Who sometimes are not even as dedicated as the matured Christian that they are supposedly guiding. Then of course we can have Elders that have established rules and regulations for their congregation that were actually hand me downs from previous generations and they don’t even have a clue as to the reasoning for the rule. Where as a Christian while maturing has seen through the absurdity of the application, and of course then reject it. If this event ever manifests itself, good luck in attempting to redirect the officials of the congregation. Sorry for the long post. Just one last thought, in my concept Elders are to be matured Christians in a congregation, but they will never be the only matured Christians in a congregation. If they fail to recognize that, they are not leadership orientated.

  9. Doug says:

    Jay, I’ll agree that the accountability groups that I mentioned in my life were smaller groups (4-8 people) but I disagree that a Life groups with 12-20 people is too large to permit vulnerability. After all, I was vulnerable in a group this size but the problem was, no one recipocated with vulnerability on their part. Some of the accountability groups that I was in had regular meetings with other accountability groups and the overall attendance in such a meeting was 30-45 people. This larger groups was still vulnerable with each other. So why is vulnerability in a CofC life group of 10-20 people impossible? My take on this is that CofC members feel the need to present a “holy” picture of themselves at all times, especially to other CofC members. They must feel that they would be rejected if people in their own church truly knew what their life was really like and what issues they struggle with. The reality, of course, is that they really aren’t that “holy” and everyone has issues in their life and being vulnerable provides the best path to overcoming those issues. God doesn’t want to just change us… He wants to accept us AND change us all at the same time. When were aren’t trusting enough with our fellow christians to be vulnerable, we short ourselves on both acceptance and the change God desires for us.

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