Self-Awareness: First Step to Vulnerability-Based Trust

 In Coaching, Leadership

High performing teams start with vulnerability-based trust. In his bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni defines vulnerability-based trust as a willingness to be open with others about your ideas, perspectives, fears, and intentions without fear. This is a big ask, especially if being vulnerable is counter to your normal approach to interacting with others in the workplace. All leaders, even high-level leaders, can learn to be open and honest with one another if they cultivate self-awareness.

Self-awareness is understanding who you are, how you are similar to others and different from others. This understanding is key to being vulnerable with others. If you do not understand yourself, it is nearly impossible to share yourself with others.

Here are three ways to raise your level of self-awareness.

Personal Reflection

Reflection helps you uncover yourself through inquiry. Set aside time each day to consider your successes, challenges, feelings, and relationships. Rather than just doing things because you always have, ask yourself how your behaviors are contributing to the successes and challenges, feelings driving you, and relationships. Write your thoughts down each day and revisit your reflections weekly or monthly to identify patterns. Taking the time to look for patterns will provide insight into your drivers and further develop your self-awareness.

Still in use today, my business partner Dan Freschi, journals his thoughts about leadership in a journal he’s used since his time in the US Army.

Leadership Journal

Dan Freschi’s Leadership Journal

Personality and Behavioral Assessments

Assessments help us recognize our actions and behaviors and their impact on others. For many leaders, it is easy to sit down and jot down your actions and behaviors without much thought or understanding. Although self-reporting has some value, assessments provide unbiased data points that uncover behaviors that we are not aware of. It is those behaviors that we do not see and willfully choose to ignore that cause issues.

Further, assessments explain how our behaviors strike others, which can be almost impossible to see when we are busy or stressed. For instance, the Hogan suite of assessments (HPI, HDS, MVPI) explores the bright side and dark side an individual’s personality, as well as their internal motivations, so they can have a full picture of how they act and the potential consequences of their behavior.  A valid and reliable assessment provides insight into our behaviors and sheds light on the unseen and unfortunately often ignored.

Leadership and Life Coaching

Coaches help their clients identify patterns in thought and behavior and, by doing so, overcome challenges. We often build stories around who we are, why we do what we do, and the subsequent outcomes. At best, these stories have gaps, and, at worst, they are completely untrue. Experienced coaches have the ability to view us from afar and shed light on the gaps and falsehoods. Coaches are not there to make us feel comfortable or be therapists. Instead, they provide us with a mirror to see ourselves more clearly. See our coaching overview here.

Each tool is just that, a tool. In order to benefit from reflection, assessments, and coaching, you must evaluate and use the information. We encourage clients to reflect on their assessment results and use the insights to build strategies for improving communication, effectiveness in a specific area, and other outcomes. Successful leaders often opt to share insights with teams during meetings focused on relationship development and organizational change initiatives.

How you utilize the self-awareness you gain from these activities is dependent on you, your team, organization, and goals. Having a stronger understanding of yourself is the first step to be vulnerable with others. You have to know yourself in order to share your story with others.

So, let me ask you:

Do you take regular time to reflect? Have you completed a personality or behavioral assessment and honestly read the results? Do you have a coach that you really engage with? How have these activities helped you grow individually and professionally?

What experiences with vulnerability and teams would you like to share?

We welcome (and read) all comments, and would love to hear from you.  Please share below.

Not ready to share openly? That’s okay. Contact us directly at

Also, if you’re a new leader, either to the organization or promoted from an individual contributor role, we recommend you download our ebook here.

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