Building Stronger Teams through Vulnerability, with Corey Blake
With over two decades of experience as a master communicator in Hollywood and the fine arts, leadership speaker Corey Blake’s talent for creatively and emotionally connecting with audiences is unrivaled. As the CEO of Round Table Companies, the veteran storyteller helps senior executives, entrepreneurs, and companies reach customers’ hearts and minds by letting their humanity steer their communication, branding, and leadership strategies. RTC and Blake are currently focused on showcasing how companies and leaders can leverage vulnerability to build stronger and more productive relationships between employees, business partners, and customers.
SPEAKING.COM: Why is vulnerability sexy?
BLAKE: Admittedly, the act of being vulnerable doesn’t feel sexy to me in the moment of expression. At times it even makes my organs tremble with terror.
However, watching someone else muster the courage to share something that makes their voice shake ignites a fire in me, and suddenly we are in a dance. It turns me on – not sexually, but as a fellow human being. I find myself feeling admiration, respect, and sometimes love for that person. Hearing someone else’s vulnerability invites me to see myself in their story and extend more kindness and love to myself.
Showing vulnerability is an experience that breathes life into me, and that is damn sexy.
SPEAKING.COM: What can people do to get over their fear of showing vulnerability?
BLAKE: Start slowly, because like anything else we want to strengthen in life, if we try to lift more than we can handle, we hurt ourselves. My recommendation is to take small steps by sharing with someone who feels safe and then incrementally share with people who feel slightly less safe. Rinse and repeat. Over time this process will build your confidence while also surrounding you with a group of people who have your back should anyone judge your vulnerability.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some common mistakes people make when trying to be more vulnerable or authentic?
BLAKE: People frequently neglect to set themselves up for success. Vulnerability is fragile and it serves us well to ensure the recipient is aware of that fragility. I encourage making the following four requests before getting vulnerable:
a. Ensure the other person can be 100% present or renegotiate a time when they can be.
b. Ask if they are willing to reserve judgment.
c. Ask if they are willing to listen without trying to fix, solve the issue, or rescue you.
d. Lastly, let them know that your goal is to feel heard. The best way they can help you feel heard is to remain quiet until you’re done sharing and then to share with you the impact of your words on them as opposed to saying everything will be fine or telling you a story about their own life.
SPEAKING.COM: How is “staying present” a part of vulnerability?
BLAKE: Presence is a key requirement for vulnerability to lead to a worthy outcome. If you’re trying to share something vulnerable with me and you see me checking my texts or looking over your shoulder for the better conversation, how might that impact your willingness to open up? Conversely, if you can tell that you are all I am paying attention to, how might that impact your willingness to speak your truth? Presence allows an energetic channel to open up, leading to a connection that can change each of us.
SPEAKING.COM: Could you give us an example of how being vulnerable led to more productive results in your professional life?
BLAKE: I was an actor in LA for ten years before I moved into business. Ten years into running RTC, I could feel the pull to take the stage again and create experiences for people. At the same time, that idea made me want to hide, because after so many years out of the spotlight, I was worried that I’d lost my talent.
Adding to my fear was that I used to perform other people’s scripts, but now the script was going to be my own. Truthfully, I had no idea if I could write for the stage. The fear of humiliation dogged me, cornering me in a vulnerable space for months. Only by creating the opportunity to perform a TED talk—and then taking that challenge head on—did I overcome that fear. I felt wonderfully powerful after giving my talk in January of 2016 and it set me off on a path of attracting the kinds of opportunities that allow me to live in deeper alignment with my purpose. That gift has invited a completely new and awesome series of adventures into my life.
SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you and Round Table Companies to focus on vulnerability?
BLAKE: We were birthed as a book writing company with a unique focus on supporting CEOs and Thought Leaders in writing the book they were born to write; not a book that shares what our clients know, but a book that shares who they are. To achieve that outcome, our process requires an incredible amount of vulnerability. Because vulnerability requires trust, we’ve spent years learning how to create the safest space possible to support our clients in asking some of the biggest questions they have ever tried to answer.
Being that safe space for others became addictive to me because, frankly, the result was awe-inspiring. The more I held space for other people’s vulnerability, the more I saw my story in their story. That exposure created connections that changed us – and to be honest, we felt guilty, as if we were holding this secret to profound happiness. (We called it waves of joy.) Vulnerability is Sexy manifested from this responsibility we felt to invite others into what we’d been experiencing and the ways it was changing our lives.
SPEAKING.COM: You and your team have channeled the theme “Vulnerability is Sexy” into an art installation, documentary, and game. How and why did you turn this concept into a game?
BLAKE: The art installation came about when we asked the question, “How could we help people express their vulnerability in a way that leaves them feeling seen for their humanity in a conference environment?” Similarly, we then asked the question, “How could we do the same within a business or home setting and at a lower price point?” The game was the answer to that second question. Some of us had also enjoyed the game Cards Against Humanity and we couldn’t help but ask the question, “What would Cards FOR Humanity look like?”
SPEAKING.COM: RTC is a “storytelling company.” What was the journey like creating RTC and building it into a successful organization?
BLAKE: In the early years, building RTC was mostly grinding and long hours. At that time, I felt anxiety in my stomach every time I opened my email, worried that someone might be unhappy with us. As a list builder, my strategy for avoiding that possibility was to do a million things right so it couldn’t be held against me when I made a mistake. That tactic drove my behavior for years.
Then the release of the business comic books and all the press coverage we generated infused this awesome sense of adventure into the company and into my life. My focus shifted to culture, happiness, and a desire to for my employees and me to feel alive at work every day. In order to make that possible I had to confront who I was and, frankly, I needed to hire coaches and therapists to help me work through behaviors and beliefs that had started with me and were now limiting and challenging us as a company.
That was the toughest time of our evolution because as I learned how to better manage myself, I hurt people along the way. There were casualties that resulted from my lack of grace and the anger that would surface for me when I felt taken advantage of (a situation I created myself over and over). Then in 2014, I asked my best friend to leave the company and terminated a relationship with a potential investor I had been speaking with to scale the company. For the first time in a long time, I felt alone with the full weight of our success on my shoulders. While that was a time of immense personal struggle and sadness and anger, it was also the catalyst for reinventing the company and myself. I found the next evolution of my purpose and we birthed Vulnerability is Sexy.
The latest piece of our journey has been investing time, energy, and money into our employees’ ability to practice vulnerability together, in front of one another, with one another’s support. As a result, we are changing once again.
SPEAKING.COM: Your motto is “lead with love.” Could you provide us with some examples of how you walk that talk at your company?
BLAKE: Love and brilliance are our two guiding principles—the values that light our way above all else. Leading with love refers to the intention we place on meeting all situations from a place of love. I’ll share an impactful example that has stuck with me.
At the end of last year, a team of two writers was working with a client whose assistant was behaving in ways that were triggering our team. These two writers felt offended and expressed that they had enough and wanted to terminate with this client after more than nine months of working together. My natural human reaction was irritation. I had a full plate that day and didn’t appreciate feeling yanked away from other obligations.
Then, that guiding value made me pause and reflect: what would it look like to lead with love in this situation?
Rather than toss this value aside just because it was inconvenient, I realized I needed to show up for my employees. I cleared part of my day and we got on the phone for nearly 90 minutes. I invited them to each share with me their experience and what hit them in the gut and made them want off this project. In sharing with me, we came to realize that while they thought they were a united front, they were each reacting to different triggers. And in hearing what was causing them pain, my own heart became heavy. I understood why they wanted off this project, which I reflected back to them. Furthermore, I made them aware that I would support that decision if that were indeed where they landed.
But instead of taking that path, they decided to go back to our client and share with him what they shared with me. The client reacted with compassion and apology. Not only did the team now feel heard, but the entire project was reinvigorated by their expression of truth and the trust that deepened as a result. They went on to finish the project and complete a stunning book for our client. Had I not taken the time to hear and support them, replacing them would have resulted in a lack of personal growth for all of us, and at least a hundred hours of additional expense to bring in another team and catch them up to speed. Leading with love was a win for the client, for the team, for the project, for the company, and certainly for my own growth as a leader.
SPEAKING.COM: How can people learn to lead with love?
BLAKE: Leading with love is not a skill – it’s a lifestyle that requires me to work on my triggers through personal development. The better I understand myself, the easier it becomes to slow myself down and create space between what triggers me and how I respond. It is in that space that leading with love becomes an option.
In my experience, personal development is not something I can do on my own. In the last decade I have hired half a dozen coaches, I have worked with five therapists, and I have invested in long-term programs that have profoundly impacted my life and, hopefully, the lives of those who work with and for me. My current fascination is with the Gestalt methodology.
I went through an eighteen-month program with the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and upon commencing from that program in 2016 I knew I needed to bring other business leaders into that world. I have since organized two groups of a dozen CEOs each who have attended weekend retreats with me, and we brought RTC’s leadership team of twelve in January and will be returning twice more with them this year to support doing our personal work in front of one another.
That last piece is the key. Doing our personal work in front of one another is a game changer.
To bring leadership and communication skills keynote speaker Corey Blake to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com
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