Confessions of an Accidental Diminisher: Vulnerability Isn't a Nicety

Confessions of an Accidental Diminisher: Vulnerability Isn't a Nicety Blog Feature

Published on March 19th, 2018

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Hi, my name is Britt Schwartz and I am an Accidental Diminisher.

The good news it that while I tend to display diminisher behavior, I am not a raging tyrant of a boss.

'How is that good news,' you ask?

It means my behavior, while unbecoming at times, is fixable. Let's celebrate that for a moment.

I want to jump into a monologue of how well-intended I am, that I really mean no harm, that it hurts to hear that I do this -- but, I won't. Because it really doesn't matter.

What matters are actions; behaviors.

So, let's jump into the behavior of an accidental diminisher and what it really means as a manager or person in a leadership position.

What IS An Accidental Diminisher?

The concept of the Accidental Diminisher comes from the book Multipliers from Liz Wiseman (why are all my favorite writers named Liz?)

Liz says this about Accidental Diminishers: "The Accidental Diminisher is the well-intended leader, often following popular management practices, who subtly and, completely unaware, shuts down the intelligence of others."

OUCH.

The concept of Liz's Multipliers suggests that, as leaders, we have two options; We can either multiple the intelligence of our team or we can diminish it. All of this power rests in us.

My Path to Diminishing

I've written and spoken about being a newer leader here at IMPACT before.

I've been consuming leadership book after leadership book and I was even lucky enough to have the opportunity to co-interview Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor on an episode of MarketHer.

With all this growing and reading and learning, I felt like I was doing the right things.

  • I've been focusing on learning how to support the growth of a tribe
  • I'm practicing caring deeply and challenging directly
  • I'm actively trying to build a safe place for my team to thrive
  • I'm more excited about watching someone else grow and win than myself

However, after months of doing this and following the high-performing coaching habits I learned at INBOUND, I found my team and I were thriving in some areas (goals, metrics, etc.) but slipping in others (tribal thinking, team cohesiveness, and a clear understanding of what our vision as a team and company looked like).

As any Type A, INFJ, go-getter would-be, I was frustrated!

I READ THE BOOKS!

I LISTENED TO THE PODCASTS!

I WATCHED YOUTUBE VIDEO, AFTER YOUTUBE VIDEO, WHILE I ALMOST DIED ON A TREADMILL!

I understood and believed in the concepts I was learning about, but something wasn't connecting.

No matter how hard I tried to apply them, we'd only get 75% of the way there. I knew there was something missing -- but I had no idea what it was or how to fix it.

At first, I thought that maybe I was struggling to step fully in this role and see the outcomes we were all striving for because the tactics and strategies that made me a wonderful client strategist were getting in the way of leading the team.

Maybe, I thought, I was applying the WRONG tactics to the team. That must be it!

Spoiler: It wasn't it.

The traits and skills I've worked years to refine and master weren't the problems.

As a leader, I still needed to be able to:

  • See what isn't being seen
  • Set a vision beyond where we were today
  • Consult my team on solving the problem ahead of us
  • Be strong, yet kind
  • Able, yet humble

All of those things are required for successful client relationships and I've learned the same is true for leading a team.

So, if I've read the write books, believed the right theories, and now believe that I have the right skill set - what is going wrong?

The Missing Connection

It wasn't until I had really frank conversations with both my managers and my team that I finally connect the missing link.

You see, I was doing all the right things, but one. That one thing was the catalyst for all the other hard work, learning, and skills to actually click.

I wasn't being vulnerable with my team.

Being a new manager is hard. You're responsible for someone else's career and happiness. I won't make the parent/manager connection, but I will say, they're not so different.

Along the path of my career, I wrongly picked up the belief that a leader had to be stoic; That to be a great leader meant, you smiled through the fire, never showing anything other than complete confidence that we'll make it through.

I was wrong to behave in a way that, while well-intended, it showed my team I wasn't connected to their perspectives, because I pushed so hard to solve and didn’t take the time to listen.

"Thank you for sharing your problem with me, now, let's fix it!"

I would deliver that line with all the bravado and positivity I had to give. As an observer, you would have thought we were discussing what to have for lunch.

Now, to be fair, the belief system is correct, we SHOULD be solving problems together.

But, with no space to discuss the struggle, success, or any emotion in between, I was simply glossing over the vulnerable bit.

I wasn't allowing my team to be vulnerable with me because I wasn't allowing myself to be vulnerable with them.

I, at times, had NO idea how we were going to solve this thing that was brought to me.

I, too, felt overwhelmed, tired, grouchy, ticked-off --but, I never shared that.

My team simply didn't believe that I understood their positions, their hardships, or really even accepted my praises; How could they when my stoicism made it appear, that I didn’t have any real interest or understanding in helping them through their situation just solving the problem at hand.

Being Actively Vulnerable

It was reassuring to know that something as simple as remembering to be human would make the biggest impact on my team; To know that all the hard work I’ve put in the past 6-months would only be more effective when I made the commitment to practice active vulnerability with my team.

With this missing connection in my tool belt, I immediately set out to authentically practice active vulnerability with my team. If I ever expect them to be real with me, I need to be real with them first.

Before I jumped into spilling my life stories and the struggle of my morning without any context, I decided to do two things: 1) Tell my team what I observed about my diminishing behavior and 2) Define to myself what active vulnerability did and did not mean.

Telling the Team: This conversation was best had during our one-on-ones. I shared with the team where I felt I had fallen down and asked for frank feedback about how that had affected their ability to connect with me and the team at large. I received amazing feedback from them that helped me help them better.

Active Vulnerability Is: Empathy. We have not been replaced by robots (yet), so we shouldn’t act like. We, as leaders, are human and we should behave as such. For myself, this means, being more open to my team about hard days I’ve had. Sharing that my life isn’t perfect (hello, five kids and 10-chickens, there is a lot of room for mess up there!) and that I too, get frustrated, mad, happy, sad, overwhelmed, discouraged, and it’s okay for them to feel that way, too.

What Active Vulnerability Is Not: It’s not a place to bring negative tones to your team. It’s not sharing every little thought that pops in your head because after all you DO have to lead this team and they DO need to have the confidence in your ability to withstand a fire and safety move everyone through it.

Are you a leader finding you team only making it 75% of the way there, too?

Join me in IMPACT Elite, where thousands of brilliant marketers, business owners, and industry-recognized experts are discussing topics just like this every single day.

If you’ve found success in being actively vulnerable with your team, I want to know more about! Comment below or email me at markether@impactbnd.com!

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