David Zinger, CEOs and Vulnerability

In his Zing-Review of March 3, employee engagement expert David Zinger cited research by the health care research firm Beryl on improving patient experiences in hospitals. The whole article is rich with references and research, though the title is a bit intimidating. David pulls from the final paragraph:

[The CEOs’] vulnerability is the first step in employee engagement. To decide on a “mission, vision and values” that truly reflects the [organizations’s] character, the CEO must sit down with staff from all levels to discuss improvements in culture. (from Becker’s Hospital Review, Feb 25, 2011)

Vulnerability and Intimacy

Vulnerability – openness, softness, exposure – is one of three key pieces of Intimacy as we define it. The first two, discretion and empathy, refer back to the other person in the relationship, how we treat them, but vulnerability sits squarely with us, how we treat ourselves.

Why is it so Hard?

Why is vulnerability, which conveys softness and openness, so darn hard in fact to put into practice?

Well, it starts with saying: “I don’t have all the answers.” Now, that’s terrifying! How will people respect me or my position?

And goes on to: “But I’m sure you have some ideas.” What if I don’t want to hear the things they have to say? What if they criticize me?

And concludes with: “Let’s put our heads together.” Yikes, and collaborate?

Like so many things in life, simple, but not easy.

7 replies
  1. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    What a wise and wonderful article, Sandy. Thank you for this.

    It’s so hard for us to get past the fear, isn’t it? I wonder why we don’t learn / teach this earlier in life: in our families, in schools, etc. It seems like, in Western countries at least, it’s something most of us wrestle with on our own, if we address it at all.

    I’ve been meaning to tell you for ages: I really enjoy your writing style. You have a great writing voice. And as someone who has paid attention to web writing for a long time, I complement your use of subtitles. Over and above the content, your article is eye-friendly and easy to read.

    Thanks again.

  2. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:

    Shaula, a compliment from you is one from the goddess! Thank you.

    Unfortunately, I think too much of what we learn growing up is how to fear: to please others and conform, instead of how to let go and be our authentic and vulnerable selves. Thanks again.

  3. julian powe
    julian powe says:

    Sandy. I agree with Shaula in all respects!

    Your blog reminds me of Ed Schein’s argument that the world is so very complex now that leaders have to be ‘humble inquirers’ now, and wear their vulnerability in a spirit of inquiry.And of Jim Collins’ picture of the professionally humble leader in ‘Good to Great’. Also, some good news for leaders of this ilk in The Institute of Leadership and Management( Europe) Index of Leadership Trust ( September 2010, http://www.i-l-m.com). The study shows that many CEO’s have driven trust up in the last twelve months specifically by improving in ‘vulnerability areas’ of ‘openness'( being accessible and receptive to ideas and opinions) and ‘understanding’ (displaying knowledge and understanding of their employees’ roles and responsibilities). Cheers! Julian.

  4. Ed Drozda
    Ed Drozda says:

    Sandy, thanks for putting this out there. I am surprised (and then again, not) at the dearth of responses. I suspect a lot of folks are hiding behind that traditional veil of worry. Well, let me say something that I think a lot of folks would like to say- opening ourselves up (you can call it vulnerability) is like opening a lens. When we do this we can take in so much more, see so much more. The trouble lies in the fact that it is a lot to take in; for anyone. If only leaders could share this experience with their teams. If only…

  5. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Ed, I so love your idea that opening ourselves up is like opening a lens! I never thought of vulnerability in terms of the RETURN of it (taking in and seeing so much more). Thank you for that gem. And Sandy, beautifully written blog, as usual. You say so much in so few words – a real gift.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] out why a CEO’s vulnerability is the first step to employee engagement, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or read how being embarrassed can be a good thing […]

  2. […] vulnerability with trustworthiness. Last year, employee engagement expert David Zinger wrote about CEO vulnerability as a critical success factor. This year, researcher Dr. Brene Brown’s TEDxHouston talk from […]

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