The power of vulnerability in the AI era, featuring author Mike Robbins (podcast recap)

Vulnerability In AI Era Mike Robbins Podcast Recap
As artificial intelligence gains traction in the workplace, authentic human connections — including showing vulnerability — are more important than ever to build trust, foster effective collaboration, and inspire innovation. 

In our latest episode of the Cohesion Podcast, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike Robbins. Mike is a motivational speaker, author and expert in teamwork, leadership and emotional intelligence. We had an enriching conversation about the importance of being human at work, focusing on authenticity, and the distinction between employee appreciation and recognition.

Read on for highlights and listen to the podcast for the full story!

Authenticity at work

One of the central themes Mike and I discussed was the idea of bringing your whole self to work. Mike shared that authenticity involves being genuine and open about who we are, including our vulnerabilities and imperfections. For some, this feels risky. How will sharing my mistakes, missteps and struggles build trust or inspire the people on my team?

Leaders like to pretend they’re bulletproof, but raw honesty is what fosters real connections.

Mike’s 2015 TED Talk on this topic is highly relevant today, especially as we navigate the post-pandemic work environment. The idea has evolved, but the core message remains the same: authenticity is the foundation for effective teamwork and building trust in the workplace.

Employee appreciation vs. recognition

We also talked about the subtle but crucial difference between appreciation and recognition. Mike explained that employee recognition is performance-based. It’s about celebrating specific outcomes and achievements. On the other hand, appreciation is about valuing people for who they are, regardless of their performance. Think of it like this: if recognition is like giving an Oscar to the best actor, appreciation is like saying thank you to someone who brightens your day with kindness.

Everyone deserves appreciation. We’re valuable because we’re human. That’s the only requirement.

Overemphasizing recognition can lead to a culture of toxic positivity, where we only recognize successful outcomes. In that environment, people take fewer risks and hide — or fudge — numbers that don’t make them or their team look good. Consistent appreciation, however, helps build a sense of belonging and psychological safety, encouraging employees to bring their full selves to work without fear of judgment.

The power of vulnerability

Mike shared an exercise he uses in workshops to help people lower their “waterline” and reveal more of their true selves. He asks participants to complete the phrase, “If you really knew me, you would know that …” This simple yet powerful exercise fosters genuine connections by encouraging people to share their real experiences and feelings. When we remove our masks and see that others still want to work with us, we trust them more. We’re no longer strangers. We’re more confident and honest at work.

Vulnerability opens the door to healing, connection and innovation.

Instead of pretending to be whatever you think a brilliant designer, developer, business partner or CEO looks like, just be yourself. Your version of a CEO is what your team wants (and needs) you to be. Diversity breeds inspiration and innovation.

Navigating generational shifts

We also touched on the generational shifts in workplace expectations. Today, younger employees are more comfortable sharing their personal lives, which can sometimes clash with traditional workplace norms. Mike emphasized the need for balance.

Yes, we need vulnerability to build trust. It’s important to be open and authentic, but there are limits to what is appropriate to share in a professional setting. Political, social, sexual and religious topics — while they might feel integral to someone’s personality — may be too personal to talk about at work. That doesn’t mean someone can’t be vulnerable or open up about who they are. We’re more than our politics or our religion. There are plenty of vulnerable things we can share about ourselves outside of these topics. It’s up to leaders to model authenticity and create environments where employees feel safe to express themselves while maintaining professional boundaries.

The impact of AI on work

As our conversation progressed, we ventured into artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the future of work. It’s hard not to talk about AI these days. Mike expressed both excitement and concern about AI. While it will undoubtedly change many aspects of work, it cannot replace the fundamental human need for connection and authenticity.

As AI takes over more routine tasks, the uniquely human qualities of empathy, creativity and emotional intelligence will become even more valuable.

Hopefully, business leaders realize that success relies on these uniquely human skills as much as it relies on productivity and output.

Building relationships and community

Mike concluded our discussion by reiterating the importance of building relationships and community in the workplace. He encouraged leaders to create psychologically safe environments where employees feel appreciated and valued for who they are, not just for what they achieve. This approach not only fosters a positive work culture but also helps build strong, resilient teams capable of adapting to the rapidly changing world of work.

Business and technical innovations are happening faster than ever before. Teams that can move and adapt together in this environment will be more successful.

Listen to the full episode

I highly recommend listening to our full conversation if you found these insights valuable. We covered so much more than what I could fit into this recap. Here are five other things we talked about:

  • Mike’s personal journey and the books that have influenced his outlook on life
  • The common myths about motivational speaking
  • How to navigate pushback when promoting authenticity in the workplace
  • The role of optimism and positivity in personal and professional growth
  • Practical tips for creating a culture of appreciation in your organization

Tune into the podcast and get inspired to bring more of yourself to work.

The Premium on Human Connection in the AI Era with Mike Robbins, Motivational Speaker & Author

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