When It Comes To Demonstrating Vulnerability, Facilitators Go First

When It Comes To Demonstrating Vulnerability, Facilitators Go First

Tips and Techniques

Facilitators are an incredibly important part of The Leadership Challenge® experience. As the leader of the group, we create an environment that motivates participants to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills, model the skills or behaviors the group is learning, and earn the trust of the group. It’s up to us, as facilitators, to help participants be sensitive to others, encourage group cohesiveness, and establish group norms.

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

Why Vulnerability?
As facilitators, we must establish a trusting relationship with participants so that they can gain the most benefit from the content.

So how do we 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 Leadership Challenge® 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 Tiffany Crosby’s TD.org article, “The Art of Being Vulnerable”:
  • Who: Participant group 
  • Why: Why do you want to share? (e.g., 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 I 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. Referencing a shared experience 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, we can demonstrate vulnerability by sharing our 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 we begin to facilitate the Inspire a Shared Vision module, a good exercise in self-disclosure is sharing the process for developing our own 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. In particular, it demonstrates 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 they wish to set for themselves and their team.

Challenge the Process
During Challenge the Process you 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 by sharing 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 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 that you have led the way by sharing your own.

It may seem daunting to really be vulnerable with workshop participants. But as facilitators, we are leading the group and setting the stage for how they can get the most out of the workshop. That’s why 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—which is at the very heart of facilitation (and leadership).



Bill Mugavin, CPLP, is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and a consultant at FlashPoint, a Global Training Partner of The Leadership Challenge® committed to ensuring that leaders truly learn practical skills and improve leadership effectiveness—and that the organizations they serve see a strong return on investment. Bill can be reached at bmugavin@flashpointleadership.com.

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