Show Weakness – Build Trust

Great leaders show weakness because they understand that trust underpins the foundation of an engaged organization. “Too many old school leaders believe ‘leadership is acting’ or we must always wear a mask to project confidence and optimism. The best leaders today realize that authenticity and vulnerability are the fastest ways to earn trust. And as Stephen M.R. Covey [stated] ‘Trust is the one thing that changes everything,’” according to Kevin Kruse in a recent article published by Forbes.

General Robert VanAntwerp, reflecting on his time as Chief Engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers, said it well when discussing crisis management, perhaps the most difficult management time to show weakness. When discussing his mandate to his team during the rebuilding of New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, he emphasized, “I wanted to be open and let them know that this wasn’t about us.”

“I set about building deep relationships, what later became friendships, with the people of Louisiana,” VanAntwerp continued. “I know every parish president in Louisiana. I went fishing with those guys. I ate dinner with them. I went to crawfish boils. And everybody else between me and them did the same thing. Once you build these relationships, what follows is trust and understanding. When we first got to Louisiana there was no understanding. People said, ‘Fix this,’ and ‘Why isn’t this done yet?’ They had no idea that it was going to take about $1 million a mile and 220 miles of levees.”

But after Van Antwerp reached out to the people, with a willingness to show weakness, they came to understand the enormity of the mission and eventually embraced him and the Corps. An agency that was once despised by the people became respected. By the time he left the Corps after his four-year term in 2011, New Orleans was far along the road to recovery. The great city known as The Big Easy was healing much better than most had predicted.

VanAntwerp and other nationally recognized leaders joined me in writing Fusion Leadership Unleashing The Movement of Monday Morning Enthusiasts. Fusion Leaders obsess over the behavioral traits that “fuse” teams together around a shared purpose, like the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Fusion Leaders, in their desire to build great organizations, embrace the notion of showing weakness as that builds a faster road toward the ultimate destination of organizational trust.