The most important words any leader can say

Vulnerability loops

We all know that trust is the key to group cooperation, but how do you create it? The answer is vulnerability loops: moments when group members candidly share weakness with each other —like what went wrong, and how you might improve next time.

Make Sure Leaders Signal Vulnerability First and Often

Though we traditionally believe that leaders should project an air of infallibility, strong cultures are, in fact, filled with leaders who are honest about failings and oversights. The point isn’t emotion—it’s information. Strong groups are strong because being honest about their weaknesses helps them learn and get stronger. And it’s contagious: experiments have shown that demonstrations of vulnerability from Person A encourage Person B to be more vulnerable, trusting, and willing to cooperate with Person A and Person C. “I screwed that up” are the most important words any leader can say.

Try a Vulnerability Loop

A vulnerability loop is a shared exchange of openness, the most basic building block of cooperation and trust. Have your group divide into teams of two. First, encourage each pair to ask each other the following questions (or similar ones—your call):
  • What was the best gift you ever received?
  • Describe the last pet you owned.
  • Who is your favorite actor or actress?
Next, encourage each pair to ask each other this second set of questions:
  • If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
  • Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  • What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Notice that this second set is a bit more personal. Answering them can be a bit awkward or uncomfortable, but it is precisely that discomfort that encourages people to see one another’s vulnerability, creating a trusting bond. Do you notice vulnerability loops forming in each pair? And when everyone went on with their day, did it turn out to be contagious? In other words, did people from different pairs seem a bit more trusting with one another?
Source: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, above summary from