Why Vulnerability Isn’t A Universal Good

Most everyone has experienced a colleague or boss who shares too much. Three lanes outbound, one lane inbound. How about the colleague who loops around the same beltway, over and over and over but can’t keep the process to themselves?

Colleagues like this work hard to share ideas, rationale and sometimes personal details. They can be exhausting, burdening others with unfiltered data and a flood of context and background. Encouraged by popular notions that vulnerability and authenticity are “good”, some feel encouraged to continue their over-sharing ways.

On the other end of the continuum are people who can’t seem to part with a shred of information beyond the work that is in front of them. That is not only no fun but can lead to decisions that are tactically good and strategically bad. This is how bureaucracy is perpetuated, and not just by government agencies. Think for a moment about the last time you opened a bank account, or worse yet, closed one. Bureaucracy. Conversely, why can an agent at Delta Airlines waive a ticket change fee (ok, sometimes)?

A healthy person, and healthy organizations have the ability to be vulnerable, which allows them to admit to mistakes. This is exactly what Frank Blake, CEO at the time, did when The Home Depot’s customer information was hacked and precisely what Richard Smith, former CEO of Equifax, did not do.

Most everyone has experienced a colleague or boss who shares too much. Click To Tweet

Necessary Boundaries

Relationships with our customers and investors are vital, but those with colleagues are important and give meaning to what we do as well. Yet, the issues with inappropriate relationships at work are legion. I’m sure you are already thinking about the obvious scenarios. Those are actually easier to spot, though perhaps more difficult to manage.

Effective leaders are strategic in their thinking about when it is best to be vulnerable (admit mistakes, for example) and when they must be circumspect (such as when planning an acquisition). They also take note of other’s tendencies to be vulnerable – too little or too much, and boundaries – too loose or too tight.

Deal Me In

In mergers, acquisitions or divestiture, leaders aspire to show little vulnerability and have tight boundaries themselves while hoping their deal partner will have obvious vulnerability and boundaries that allow them to find out what is difficult to uncover.

In The Merger Mindset, my co-author and I discuss the psychological dynamics at play in deals and what leaders can do to be aware of them and use this knowledge to their advantage. The book is available for pre-order now and will ship in late November. Meanwhile, below is a visual that can help make the concepts useful, now.

Vulnerability and Boundaries