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Leadership Development

Demonstrating Vulnerability While Facilitating The Leadership Challenge


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When it comes to demonstrating vulnerability, facilitators go first

Facilitators are an incredibly important part of The Leadership Challenge® experience. As the leader of the group, the facilitator creates an environment that motivates participants to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills, models the skills or behaviors the group is learning, and earns the trust of the group. It’s up to the facilitator to help participants be sensitive to others, encourage group cohesiveness, and establish group norms (McCain, Facilitation Basics 2nd Ed., 2015).

If facilitation is leadership, and leadership is a relationship, then doesn’t it stand to reason that facilitation is a relationship?


Why Vulnerability?

As the facilitator, you must establish a trusting relationship with participants so that they can gain the most benefit from the content.

So how do you do it?

We return to Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge: Trust comes from understanding each other’s values and experiences. We can build trust by demonstrating a willingness to be vulnerable – which also helps a leader to be authentic. For a facilitator to be an authentic leader to the group and establish trust, it requires vulnerability.

Self-disclosure is one method of demonstrating vulnerability that a skilled facilitator can (and should) weave throughout each part of the workshop. It requires a delicate balance ­to demonstrate vulnerability while maintaining the focus of the workshop on the participants. There has to be a specific reason for your self-disclosure that benefits the participants. Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about them.

To help ensure that examples benefit the participants (instead of putting the spotlight on me), I personally find it helpful to refer back to the concept of the five Ws (adapted from Crosby’s The Art of Being Vulnerable):

  • Who: Participant group
  • Why: Why do you want to share? (to elicit a particular response or convey certain information?)
  • What: What will you share?
  • When: Is this the right time to share?
  • Where: Is this the right environment for this type of conversation?


Demonstrating Vulnerability During Orienteering

During the Orienteering portion of the workshop, I find it helpful to share my LPI® experience. This disclosure helps participants see that you understand the personal nature of the feedback and it helps highlight a model for how to integrate the feedback they’ve received into their development. By referencing a shared experience between you and the participants, you can help put them at ease – especially if they have received feedback they might not have anticipated.


Model the Way

During the Model the Way section, facilitators can demonstrate vulnerability by sharing your lifeline, values, or critical event stories. To help participants understand what types of information they should consider as they construct their lifelines, it’s helpful to show that your timeline is a combination of personal and professional history – from your personal milestones to your career path.

When I share mine, I walk through a few areas of my lifeline: my teen years, my experience in the military, my early career, the birth of my daughter, and my later career.


Inspire a Shared Vision

As facilitators begin the Inspire a Shared Vision module, a good exercise in self-disclosure is sharing the process for developing your vision. Giving details on the process you went through helps participants understand the amount of thought required and the time it takes to complete developing a vision. It especially demonstrates for participants that a vision can fall anywhere along the continuum from world peace to daily purpose. It doesn’t have to be grandiose, it just has to inform the direction of themselves and their team.


Challenge the Process

During Challenge the Process, facilitators can share an experience that relates to a variety of concepts: a time when you seized the initiative, exercised outsight, celebrated small wins, or failed forward. For example, when you share with participants what it looks like to exercise outsight to implement an idea within your organization, it can help them picture the incrementalism needed to drive a positive change within your circle of influence (e.g. small wins).


Enable Others to Act

Throughout the Enable Others to Act portion of the workshop, you can also demonstrate vulnerability through a few methods. Facilitators could share an example of re-establishing trust in a damaged relationship, a story about a powerless experience, or an example of developing a team member’s competence and confidence. Specifically, sharing how you have re-established trust in a damaged relationship answers a question that I often see asked in workshops. It’s a common dilemma and many participants struggle to make this happen, so a specific, real-life example is helpful.


Encourage the Heart

Finally, as you facilitate the Encourage the Heart module, you could share an example around your most meaningful recognition or examples of personalizing recognition. These anecdotes model for participants what personal recognition can look like as well as the level of intimacy and detail you’re asking them to share with partners or table members. For something as personal as feedback that has deeply touched them, participants can feel confident knowing the facilitator has led the way with sharing.


It may seem daunting to really be vulnerable with your workshop participants, but as the facilitator you are leading the group and setting the stage for how they can get the most out of the workshop.

But it is absolutely critical to remember to be intentional and purposeful with the examples that you’re sharing. Every example should open a doorway for the participants in the room to be vulnerable with each other. And that, in turn, helps them learn from and with each other. And that is the heart of facilitation (and leadership).

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Bill Mugavin

Bill Mugavin is a Senior Leadership Development Consultant at FlashPoint. He has worked with top-tier Fortune 1000 global organizations to improve leadership and management effectiveness.