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Three Keys to Leading

Learning how to trust, be vulnerable and listen well can make you a better leader

Back Article Feb 17, 2021 By Tina Reynolds

This story is part of our February 2021 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Some people are natural-born leaders, some learn leadership skills, and others fall into it. When you are in the position of being the boss, are you bossing people around, or are you leading them? With more than 40 years of owning my own businesses, I’ve learned a thing or two about leadership — actually, I’ve learned three: trust, vulnerability and listening.

This pursuit of leadership all started with a few simple words that I have lived with for a very long time: “How can I help you?” This simple statement has set me up to guide and lead people. I didn’t start saying it with the goal of becoming a leader; I started saying it simply because I wanted to help people. And, over time, I became really good at helping my team and my community, so good that others started to head my way when something needed to be done. They knew if they had a problem, I would listen and share some core thoughts about similar situations that I have walked through.

This pursuit of leadership all started with a few simple words that I have lived with for a very long time: “How can I help you?” This simple statement has set me up to guide and lead people.

Be Vulnerable

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you need to reveal deeply personal things about yourself. It means you simply need to show up genuinely in every situation. If you’re dealing with something challenging, make that known to your team. Be honest with them — show them how you, as a leader, can be genuine and real in the workplace.

Many people struggle to be vulnerable in romantic relationships, let alone their professional ones. But if you break down what vulnerability is, it suddenly becomes easier. You have to know yourself and trust yourself. You have to know how you’re leading and what kind of leadership your team needs. Once you know this, you can pick and choose the ways to show up that will work best for you and your team. 

Vulnerability can be simple: It’s sharing and caring, then listening intently.

Establish Trust

Establishing trust as a leader can be very difficult. It’s not so much because cultivating trust itself is hard, but because the two primary qualities necessary to building trust are difficult to achieve on their own: vulnerability and listening. Throughout my career, I have offered help to anyone who wanted it. It only took a few years for me to realize that a small time investment, as little as 10-15 minutes, of one-on-one time with someone can dramatically change the relationship. After years of inviting others to, and participating in, these quick meetings, I began to understand that simply offering to help someone established me as a leader in their eyes. To me, a leader is a person that others gravitate toward. But why do they gravitate toward them in the first place?

I found that when you reveal a true emotion, a feeling or a story from your past that connects with the person or people you are talking with, vulnerable moments will bring them closer to you. You’ll see it begin to happen right before your eyes as you’re talking. A light will go on, and they’ll say, “Me too!” or “I feel that same way!” The mutual exchange of vulnerability is how people choose who to follow. This is because vulnerability is a stepping stone to trust. The shared vulnerability between two people brings about a stronger, deeper connection, and it can happen quickly. 

Learn to Listen

Listening is the final key to establishing trust as a leader, because to have a mutual connection or mutual exchange of vulnerability, you need to listen to the person as intently as they listened to you. When I listen really well to the person in my space, I learn and grow every time. If I do all the talking, I am not learning anything new. When I listen, I become a stronger leader. Listening is a practice, just like sharing and finding moments to be vulnerable. This connection, when cultivated and reaffirmed over time, builds trust between the leader and the follower.

Ask anyone on my team and they will agree that I’m a people-first leader. I have found my way into vulnerability and trust by taking the time to listen and discover the personal motivations of every person on my team. We have created a shared trust through those exchanges. Every day, I set out to guide my team toward a better work-life balance, coax them into situations that build character and surround them with opportunities.

I am excited to give them options to share their thoughts with me, and when they do, I make time to listen intently. I want them to cultivate the same care for the people they work with as I do. Not only because this creates trust between the two of us, but because this makes them feel like they have been and will be taken care of on all levels. When an issue arises in their life that will also impact how they show up at work, they trust me with that information. With that trust, I am empowered as a leader to help them find a solution. Which is, to me, the end goal.


Tina Reynolds opened Uptown Studios, a visual communications firm in Sacramento specializing in graphic design, website design, video production, social media and marketing, in 1992. 

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