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  • Writer's pictureUlrika Gustafson PCC LL.M

Building Vulnerability-Based Trust: Insights from an Executive Coach



In the fast-paced world of leadership, the ability to build trust within a team is paramount. As an executive coach with a focus on leadership development, I've had the privilege of working closely with clients who have successfully cultivated vulnerability-based trust within their teams. In this blog post, we'll explore the significance of vulnerability-based trust, drawing on real-life examples from my clients' journeys.


Understanding Vulnerability-Based Trust


Vulnerability-based trust is the foundation of strong and resilient teams. It goes beyond surface-level interactions, encouraging open communication, empathy, and a genuine understanding of each team member's strengths and challenges. Here are some key strategies to help senior leaders foster vulnerability-based trust:


1. Lead by Example


One of the most effective ways to establish vulnerability-based trust is for leaders to lead by example. Sharing personal experiences, challenges, and even failures can create a culture where team members feel comfortable doing the same. A client of mine, John, the CEO of a tech startup, emphasized the importance of authenticity. By openly discussing his own learning moments, he created an environment where team members felt safe to share their concerns and ideas.


"Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength." - Sigmund Freud

2. Embrace Open Communication


Encourage transparent and open communication within your team. This involves actively listening to your team members, valuing their input, and fostering an environment where everyone feels heard. Sarah, a senior executive in the finance industry, implemented regular "open forum" sessions where team members could express their thoughts without fear of judgment. This approach not only strengthened the team's trust but also led to innovative solutions.


3. Acknowledge Mistakes


Nobody is perfect, and admitting mistakes is a powerful way to build trust. Tom, a seasoned CTO, shared with me how acknowledging his errors and discussing the lessons learned helped him connect with his team on a deeper level. It demonstrated humility and a commitment to continuous improvement.


4. Foster a Culture of Empathy


Empathy is a key element of vulnerability-based trust. Encourage leaders and team members alike to understand and appreciate each other's perspectives. Lisa, a top-level executive in marketing, implemented team-building activities centered around empathy. These activities helped team members better understand each other's challenges, fostering a sense of camaraderie.


5. Provide Support in Tough Times


In times of challenge or crisis, displaying vulnerability as a leader can be particularly impactful. Share your concerns and uncertainties while also expressing confidence in the team's ability to overcome obstacles. Mark, a CEO navigating a major industry shift, exemplified this by openly discussing the challenges ahead and reinforcing the team's collective strength.

Building vulnerability-based trust is an ongoing process that requires dedication and commitment from senior leaders. By incorporating these strategies and learning from the experiences of successful leaders like Sarah, Tom, and Lisa, you can create a workplace culture where trust thrives, fostering collaboration, innovation, and long-term success. Remember, vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a testament to your strength as a leader willing to connect with your team on a deeper level.



Ulrika Gustafson LL.M PCC is a Certified Executive Coach, former C-suite leader and partner of HAMILTON THERRELL Executive Advisors, an international advisory group of experts in leadership and organizational transformation. She advises CEOs and coaches senior executives on succeeding in demanding environments.

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