How to Get Naked with Your Team

I want to come across as professional and authoritative. They feel like a good suit, projecting important elements of my self-image. But, the very times I’ve been unprofessional and less than impressive are critical learning points in my career. By sharing them I save my team and those I mentor significant pain. I can dispel a bout of the blues by sparking a much-needed laugh or smile with tales of my failures. A little psychological nudity can do wonders.

But there’s a more important reason to reveal a bit more about ourselves… 

The Edelman Trust Barometer gauges trust levels: “79% of employees say they trust their co-workers, ahead of their manager, head of HR and their CEO.” In Canada, “…less than half of Canadians view government leaders and CEOs as trustworthy (government leaders at 43% and CEOs at 36%).” Ouch.

Those numbers convert directly to productivity issues. We don’t work at our best for people we don’t believe in. We certainly won’t support a change led by someone we don’t trust. Instead, we witness cynicism and an “I’ll wait and see” attitude.

Cue the nudity.

Trust is not easily built, but we do know that people respond positively to personal revelations, particularly the self-effacing humble kind. For example, when I attended my first client meeting with my zipper down. Or the time when the loan officer at my bank shouted at me for blowing the whistle on her. Or when I messed up the shirt sizes for our project team and everyone ended up with a choice of XL and 2XL (one person put a belt over it so it looked like a dress). So embarrassing…

But sharing the stories reveals much more about me than acting all perfect in every meeting. I’m not. Pretending that I’m perfect fools no one.

Sharing our life lessons is difficult at times. It leaves us vulnerable. It changes how people view us.. And that’s exactly where trust is built. Let me help you s trip it back (pun intended):

  • Keep it simple. Just one story. I didn’t come to work to watch a slide show about your whole summer vacation.
  • Hit the high points. Think elevator pitch. Sufficient context to follow the direction and just enough detail to make it interesting.
  • Poke fun at yourself. Poking fun at others is always risky – it can backfire easily.
  • Timing matters. A funny story can be a great opener or closing to a meeting. Painful stories should lead people to action. Don’t leave them depressed!

There’s one more benefit to a bit of mental nudity: It invites reciprocation. 

When you open the door, you increase the chances that members of your team will do the same. And wouldn’t it be good if we built a culture where everyone felt comfortable sharing their mistakes? Wouldn’t that be better than living in fear of hiding our errors? Could that even save the organization time and money? 

Stories are powerful. They unlock ideas and invite people into your world. What tale will you reveal at your next meeting?

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper

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