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Bagel & Biz: Kurt Kersey, The Role of Vulnerability in Leadership

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Kurt Kersey joined People At Your Service for our April episode of Bagels & Biz discussing the role of vulnerability in leadership, the people who shape us into who we are, and how appropriate intimacy is sometimes avoided when building trust in personal and professional relationships. Kurt, a devout and faith filled son, husband, and friend started his career as a financial advisor at Northwest Mutual but heard the calling to branch out and try his hand at starting his own company, first as a marketer and now as a successful leadership coach with Scaled Up Marketing.


It is difficult to overstate the importance Kurt’s mentors had in shaping the man he has become, both personally and professionally. He attributes a lot of his growth to two people in particular: his father and his lifelong friend and mentor, Todd Guckenberger, co-founder of Back2Back Ministries. It was from these two men that he learned not only his strong work ethic but was also introduced to Mike Breen’s concept of “high invitation and high challenge” as a way to build your community around you. This call to action and enthusiasm to have others participate are what has strongly influenced Kurt’s success in building his business and forming the remarkable team he has surrounded himself with. In order to foster really great community whether that is with your team or friends or family, you have to create a culture of “high invitation”, (we are excited for you to be here and to hear your ideas) and also “high challenge” (we are going to challenge those ideas and push you to accomplish them). The marriage of those two things is essential to developing a supportive and successful team.

Inspired by Todd and his father, Kurt found his passion to work with and help develop young leaders on his team. He realized these young leaders desperately need a space where they are seen and heard and where they are able to take some shots but also to have the support to help them attain whatever the next step may be. This is why the “high invitation, high challenge” has become such a critical component of his business.

Work Ethic, Trust, and Intimacy

Early in Kurt’s career he found that a strong work ethic can be a double-edged sword. One the one hand you are packing your schedule with potentially lucrative appointments, accomplishing goals, and advancing your career and business. On the other hand, however, it is very easy to let important things slip by.

Kurt’s father gave him a book when he first started his career called, “The Trusted Advisor” by David Maister. In this book it discusses the importance of the Trust Equation. It goes on to say that Trust is a function of three things: Credibility, Reliability, and Intimacy.

Being a young leader helping to form and grow a new wealth management practice Kurt was responsible for the development of his team, responsible for building this sense of Trust. From a credibility and reliability perspective he provided them with all the materials and resources necessary to educate them about how to do the job successfully. But he stopped there. Kurt failed to achieve the third and most important piece of the Trust Equation: Intimacy.

If the word “intimacy” scares you or evokes a cringy connotation when being discussed in the workplace don’t worry you are not alone. But Kurt suggests replacing it with a much more palatable word: vulnerability. Intimacy is vulnerability. It’s letting your team and fellow leaders understand who you are and gaining the opportunity to learn who they are at a personal level.

How to Grow Intimacy

In his team Kurt developed three main questions to help grow intimacy both professionally but also personally when they leave the office for the day. Think of a trusted mentor, someone who has spoken a lot of wisdom into your life and you have learned a lot from. Picture that mentor and imagine them asking you these three questions: Where do you need support right now? Where do you need encouragement in your life? Where do you need challenge? Honestly answering those questions can lead you to deeper insights that provide important direction but also, when those answers are shared with others in your work and home lives, allow them to support you in the ways you need. Together, you lift one another up and help everyone to become better versions of themselves.

Effective leaders should consistently ask, and know the answer to, those three questions. We build credibility by knowing to ask those three questions. We build reliability by asking them consistently. And we build intimacy by actually listening to the answers sharing them and following through.

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