Just Add Vulnerability

I have a love-hate relationship with math (probably because I am getting worse at it with each passing minute). I do love word formulas, though. They are nice and sticky, as in they are easy to remember and employ.

Here’s a favourite formula: Data + Feeling + Impact = Effective Feedback

Even my most conflict-averse clients have had success using this structure. Recently a client mustered up the courage to be candid with a leader whom everyone feared. In a private setting, she pushed through her own nervous feelings and spelled out the facts about his misbehaviour in a team meeting. At one point, she felt she herself might cry because it was so tough to confront this intimidating leader. His (unexpected) response was gratitude. No one else had the courage to give him this gift of honest feedback.  His behaviour in team meetings has improved significantly.

I’ve talked about the feedback formula so much it’s time to up our game. This one comes from a fantastic book called An Everyone Culture by Kegan and Lahey.

Pain + Reflection = Progress

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization BOOK Robert KeganLisa Laskow LaheyMatthew L. MillerAndy FlemingAt first glance, you might not like this new math.  Few like pain. And many of us would prefer not to reflect because it means slowing down.  On the other hand, most of us love progress. We just prefer to achieve it without pain or reflection.

So the new formula needs a qualifier to entice us to even consider it.

Pain + Reflection (in a highly trustworthy environment) = Progress

A highly trustworthy environment is a space that lets us be ourselves. Trustworthy spaces, like hopefully our homes, enable us to reveal our true opinions, feelings and fears while having faith we’ll still be included and loved (and employed!).

I cannot think of a single company I’ve worked with whose initial culture purposely encouraged vulnerability in order to progress.  Rather, I’ve come across such companies through case studies I’ve read.  Take Bridgewater Associates for example. It is a highly successful financial firm with $160 billion worth of assets under management. It intentionally creates a workplace culture that encourages “well-held vulnerability.” At Bridgewater, they insist on truth and transparency AS THE PATH to exceptional company growth AND people growth.  This approach is not for everyone. And yet, the company has incredible financial results and employee retention.  Bridgewater people want to develop on the job every day while also doing exceptional work.

We don’t live in a case study textbook world.  Yet, I am thrilled to report that some leaders on our small and mighty Island are courageously embracing vulnerability to progress. This development is encouraging.  And we all know that when top leaders change, the entire company changes. We really like what we see.


  1. Rachelle on March 22, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Great read!

    • Lisa on March 27, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Thank you Rachelle – I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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