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84. Weakness brings compassion, but damages trust – and that’s a problem

I recently wrote a blog post about how things were not going well. It’s not often that I share that kind of private information, and I was curious as to how it would be received.

The response was overwhelming. People wrote comforting words, asked what they could do, and said it was heartwarming to see that vulnerable side of me. People who are usually very critical reached out with compassion. It felt good and empowering, and I was glad I’d done it.

Then the rumors started.

“Is Claus losing it?”

“Will the events he’s doing happen at all?”

“Is it all going to hell?”

I’ve heard of these mainly secondhand, since only a select few have asked me directly. But due to people relaying info, I know my post has been debated. I know some people have suffered a confidence loss in me because of it.

We tell each other that there’s no shame in reaching out. That it’s ok to say you’re scared, or lonely, or stressed or exhausted. We counsel our friends to be honest and open and not pretend to be invincible. We applaud those who allow us a peak behind the curtain and who admit to having doubts, pain and challenges.

But as I’ve just seen first hand, we also trust them less. We doubt their competence, we question their stamina and we worry about their promises. We ask our other friends if we should back out of projects with them. We are afraid of them breaking and of the fallback hitting us.

It’s understandable.

It’s fair.

But it’s also problematic.

In my case, it means that the fear I had of showing weakness has returned, and doubled. I’m a community leader, an employer and a project leader. I have people depending on me, and people who are affected by the choices I make. They need to trust me, and trust my competence, or things will start going downhill.

How can they do that if they see I’m troubled, in doubt and stretched thin?

I get that. One of the things that makes me a leader is that I am confident and (generally) competent. If that’s gone, why should people place their faith in me? It makes sense.

On the other hand, how can I let people know that I have worries if I can’t talk about them?

Luckily, I am privileged to have problems that are not insurmountable. However I look at it, they’re first world problems. And they’re solvable. One of the reasons I wrote the other blog post was because I wanted to say that while I was having a rough time, it was going to be ok, because I wasn’t alone in this.

I’m still confident we’ll land the car on the other side. I’m not sitting idly by and I haven’t given up. I’m just as full of fire and brimstone as always, and I’m using the current crisis as a reason for learning new things and growing.

But this has given me a lived experience of the strange duality between weakness and trust, and while it has been liberating to share, it has also been rough to see the confidence drop happen.

My message is simple, even if it’s not easy.

When people share their pain, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost their power. And if you want to help them, be compassionate and reach out. But don’t lose your faith in them. That’s just going to make them play the cards even closer to their chest next time.

And that’s not good for anyone.

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Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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