Small Business Weapons: Vulnerability and Getting Naked

by Ken Mueller on June 4, 2012 · 12 comments

Cover of "Getting Naked: A Business Fable...

Cover via Amazon

This past weekend at my church I had the privilege of seeing a video of Patrick Lencioni of The Table Group, taken from last year’s Global Leadership Summit. Lencioni is a business and management consultant with an incredible track record and great sense of humor.

The presentation was on vulnerability and much of the material was based on his book, Getting Naked, where he discusses how businesses need to shed three different fears that prevent us from gaining client/customer loyalty. Lencioni’s talk was incredibly inspiring, and quite frankly, full of common sense. Even he admitted that a lot of what he was speaking about was stuff we already know, saying that,

People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.

I think that rings true with a lot of business advice, particularly within the social media and marketing realms, which is why you’ll see me hammering home a lot of common themes over time.

As for allowing ourselves to “get naked”, Lencioni says that,

With vulnerability comes a possibility of suffering, but along with it also comes a huge possibility of success

Like Lencioni, I believe that being vulnerable, and allowing yourself to be wrong at times, even in the presence of your customers or employees, is a strength, not a weakness. As I work with clients, we go over scenarios of how to respond to questions or comments when they get them via social channels. One thing I always tell them is that we need to learn how to say,

I don’t know

and be comfortable with that response. There is nothing wrong with admitting our lack of knowledge, in the same way that there is nothing wrong with uttering the phrase,

I was wrong

Our culture dictates that saying these things is wrong, as we seek to save face. We are told that we need to look good at all costs, not just physically, but intellectually. Pride is an awfully nasty friend, and yet we cling to it.

We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, which is closely related to that buzzword: transparent. A lot of folks dismiss transparency in social media because they misinterpret what it means. It’s not about revealing every little thing about yourself. It’s about being honest in what you do choose to reveal, and not being misleading in your omissions.

Here is a synopsis of the three fears that Lencioni says keep us from being vulnerable, with my notes interspersed with those provided to us on our note sheet.

1. The fear of losing the business (the fear of rejection) – When we see something that is wrong, we need to speak up, and “speak the kind truth,” or “speak the truth in love”. Sure, we might lose some business if we call our clients out on things, but they might just respect us. I would rather speak up and lose some clients, and hopefully attract the right kind of clients.

Or as Lencioni says,

Enter the danger



2. The fear of being embarrassed – Remember those times when you had a question in a class, but were afraid to ask it because you thought everyone would think it was a stupid question? And then someone else asked the same question only to be told, “Great question!”? It’s happened to all of us. Lencioni says we should “ask the dumb question anyway.” In a meeting, float that “dumb” idea. He notes that,

When others know we are more concerned about them than about ourselves and our own reputation, it builds trust.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being wrong. Sure, some of our questions will be dumb, but some of them might just be brilliant.

When we acknowledge our humanity it’s attractive

Real people, if they are honest, are attracted to those who are human, in all of their imperfection. We spend way too much time and effort trying to be “right” and perfect. Which is silly, because none of us are perfect.

Again, to paraphrase Lencioni,

If you pass gas in public, own up to it. Don’t try to hide it

We all know it was you, so why not just fess up and turn that embarrassment into being real?

3. The fear of feeling inferior – This is especially true of those in management. We don’t want to feel inferior to our employees, but this is bound to happen, especially if we surround ourselves with good people. In fact, I’m inspired when I go into a business and see the top people rolling up their sleeves to pitch in. A local grocery store chain, Darrenkamps, is comprised of three stores, owned by three brothers. These are full-service grocery stores, no smaller than any of the larger chain stores. And yet, when you go in, you’re just as likely to be served by one of the Darrenkamp brothers as you are by one of their minimum wage, high school aged employees. That guy doing the cleanup in aisle six might just be one of the owners.

This is why I talk about the concept of putting “Others First” as being integral to the culture of your small business, as well as permeating your marketing efforts. Be more interested in “them” than in yourself. Or as Lencioni says, even if it’s below you and not in your job description,

Do the dirty work anyway

This is rare and refreshing. These are the businesses to which I’m attracted, both as a consumer and a consultant.

Lencioni sums it all up by noting that,

Vulnerability is powerful and attractive.

Once we admit this, and put it into practice, with our customers and our employees, it will be transformative, both for ourselves and our businesses.

Go on. Be vulnerable. Get naked. No one wants to see you put on airs.

Patrick Lencioni will be speaking again at this year’s Global Leadership Summit. If you’re in Central PA, you can attend at one of three LCBC locations. If not, check online for a participating venue near you.

Last year’s Summit also featured folks like Seth Godin, Cory Booker, and Len Schlesinger. In addition to Lencioni, this year’s speakers include Jim Collins, Sheryl WuDunn, Condoleeza Rice, William Ury, John Ortberg, and Pranitha Timothy, among others.  You won’t regret attending.

How are you seeking to be vulnerable, both personally and in your business?


I had to come back to say thanks for this post. I finished this book today and would probably not have had it on my radar if you'd not mentioned it here. Great takeways that we already know, but need to get in our minds to naturally implement. We've been taught to show ourselves as all knowing and prepared. Vulnerability humanizes us and is definitely a good thing.


I hear ya; I somewhat touched on it in my post today. I just reached my 29th anniv at Lanier Upshaw, but even with the tenure and titles I'm out there 'selling' every day. And sales can be very humbling, regardless of how much of a hot shot you are. Therefore, it is always good to be humble...........and vulnerable; never think you are 'too good' to do anything. 


Loved this post, Ken.  Across the board authenticity, whether you're right or wrong, delivers a balanced human being, in business and everywhere else.



Very inspirational post Ken.  Besides that, it is an amazingly well done post, including all of the things that you tell others to include in their posts.

KenMueller moderator

 @annedreshfield Exactly. This isn't a play or a movie. We need to get over ourselves. Thanks for stopping by, Anne!

KenMueller moderator

 @bdorman264 I love the businesses where the managers and owners are right there in the trenches. We shouldn't need shows like Undercover Boss where a distant manager has to make a point of getting down and dirty, to learn what it's really like. That should be an every day occurrence. 

KenMueller moderator

 @BobReed Right on, Bob. Everyone spends so much time trying to "look good" when none of us can succeed in that. If we were all just honest, we'd stop playing that game, and things would move so much more smoothly. 

KenMueller moderator

 @BestRoofer Thanks, Joe, I really appreciate that. You ought to consider attending this years Summit in August. Some great speakers and right up your alley. 


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