What I Learned From Getting Naked

Vulnerability is a cornerstone of relationship building and trust. In EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization) we have a monthly meeting with a group of our peers called forum. In order to maximize our learnings through shared experiences, it’s critical the members of the group expose their vulnerabilities building trust along the way.

A couple weeks ago my buddy Jacques recommended this book called Getting Naked. It’s a great fable about a small consulting firm and the framework they used to win and service their clients.

As I was thinking about these two worlds, I started seeing parallels with the one I live in as the leader of a product team. In Getting Naked, there are three points Patrick Lencioni talks about that really struck home:

  • Overcome the fear of being embarrassed
  • Tell the kind truth
  • And most importantly, enter the danger

Overcome the fear of being embarrassed

When I first started at Microsoft as a Program Manager I was asked to lead projects with 10–15 year engineering vets. There were so many times where I just kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, which inevitably happened anyway. In technology, the pace of change is so fast that it’s hard to keep up which gives us a bunch of opportunities to look stupid.

As a young product owner or project manager this fear keeps us from getting to the root of problems and subsequently failure to come up with good solutions. Instead, what happens is we internalize, make mistakes and lose respect amongst our team members.

The harder more effective method is to expose yourself. Lencioni talks about the need to ask dumb questions and make dumb suggestions. This can be incredibly hard to do, especially when you are a young leader. If you can overcome that fear what happens is some will laugh at you and some will think you’re stupid but over time, all will trust you. Knowing you have the courage to expose yourself means there is probably very little you are hiding.

Engineers are usually pretty smart people. Like any person though, it’s easy to get caught up in one’s own lens resulting in sub-optimal decision making. Leaders who aren’t afraid to make dumb suggestions and challenge the status quo will say a lot of stupid things that can’t be done, and then find a gem in the one that can.

Tell the kind truth

The truth shall set you free… But it can also turn you into a big fat asshole. One of the things I disliked about working at Microsoft was their commitment to blunt truth that typically came out in flame mails (nasty emails written by spineless punks) or heated meetings. The culture was often combative and the assertive tone made it tough to have difficult conversations.

The kind truth is often still hard to hear. As a leader it's your duty to have the courage to deliver the tough message in a way that shows you are in tune to the affect it has on your team member.

Enter the danger

Lencioni says “…entering the danger has to do with having the courage to fearlessly deal with an issue that everyone else is afraid to address.” Strong leaders understand this well.

Often times in a collaborative team environment danger lies within individual’s performance. By neglecting to tell the kind truth issues can fester resulting in a disgruntled, dis-functional team.

By contrast, when you enter into the danger you find tremendous opportunities for improvement. In agile, the retrospective is arguably the most important ceremony. A good retrospective has engaged team members who respect each other and are courageous enough to enter into the danger areas together. It’s through this interaction that teams iterate and improve.

Vulnerability

When you expose yourself, you build trust amongst your peers. Exposure is the way you allow yourself to make mistakes, learn quickly from others and come up with amazing ideas (after you get past a few bad ones!).

So get on out there and start Getting Naked!