It’s an incredible feeling to be in the presence of someone who you can see is changing the world through their work.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a workshop run by Dr Brené Brown (along with 4,000 other people!) at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
Dr Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington – Brené Brown Endowed Chair. She’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She’s the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead. Her most recent book, Dare to Lead, was released in October 2018 and is the culmination of a seven-year study on the future of leadership.
For three hours I sat enraptured as Dr Brown shared with us her philosophy and research on leadership. I was in awe as I sat there looking around the Convention Centre at all these people keen to learn more about being better human beings and better leaders. It hit me that Dr Brown is creating a movement across the world that will enable us to connect better with ourselves and others and lead to happier, healthier, higher-performing people in life and at work. It was a privilege to be in her presence and be exposed to her wisdom and practical advice for being a courageous leader for the future.
Sharing the experience with some of the women in my network was also wonderful. I put the call out on social media for others who might like to join me and eighteen responded! There were women from DEWLP, Yarra Ranges Shire, Northeast Health Wangaratta, Women's Health Loddon Mallee, North Central Catchment Management Authority, the Irrigated Cropping Council, By Accident, Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, EPA, Global People, Northern District Community Health and Little Boxes Cafe (all the way from Adelaide!).
I wanted to share with you some of the key points that resonated with me, as a facilitator and coach of high performing teams and people, particularly those located in rural and regional Australia.
The common refrain from leaders across all sectors interviewed in Dr Brown’s research was that the future of leadership belongs to the brave. They identified that the practice of leadership desperately needs more courage. If we don't build courageous cultures then we've failed as leaders.
Human courage and leadership will never be replaced by artificial intelligence. If you want to lead by cognition then your time is limited because AI is already here. If you say you don't "do" feelings, then you're not a leader.
Courageous leadership starts with connecting in with yourself and, as Brené said, "increasing the real estate of your self-awareness". Some of our behaviours happen outside of our self-awareness. Courageous leadership also requires an ability to connect with others to have honest conversations and attend to their fears and feelings. As leaders if we're not able to attend to people's fears and feelings we'll always be stuck managing problematic behaviours. We are emotional beings who, on occasion, think. We are trying to create cultures at work that are often better than what many people have at home.
Daring leaders are never silent. They have the courage to excavate what is not being said. E.g. “I don’t know what is going on here but we need to talk about it.” We are tapping out of hard, honest conversations at work. We have a “nice” culture problem. If someone is not delivering we don’t talk to them, we talk about them. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. People have a right to know.
When Brené interviewed elite sporting team scouts and asked what type of player they fought over, they said we fight over the ones who can recover from a setback. They said they would choose the person who had the best reset capacity over someone who had higher skill with no reset. If we want to teach people to be brave, Brené recommends we teach them how to reset and bounce back from failure – it’s a lot easier to be brave if you know you can bounce back if something goes wrong. Many of us get stuck in setbacks. You can’t teach people to reset when they are down on the ground, we need to on-board for it.
Language is important. Shame vs guilt – shame is a focus on self: I AM bad. Guilt is a focus on behaviour: I DID a bad thing. Shame is highly correlated with eating disorders, depression, bullying, suicide, violence. Guilt is inversely correlated with these outcomes. People who use guilt self-talk have a lower incidence of these outcomes than the general population. Brené asks us to consider – are you shame-prone or guilt-prone? If you walk through an office and see name calling, berating etc then that’s shaming behaviour – you have a crisis on your hands. That behaviour will decay culture in minutes. You only need to shame one person for all your people to feel it. If you’re using shame as a management tool then you’re causing terrible damage to your people and culture.
There is ZERO data to support that shame works as a management tool. Most violent offending is shame-based. We see shame in gossip, favouritism, performance evaluation that makes people feel small, the meetings after the meeting, the back-channelling. Shame can only rise to a certain level before people have to disconnect and disengage to survive. The more self-worth someone has the earlier they disengage. The people who hang in and keep performing in a shame culture are those people who think they deserve to be shamed.
We’re brave and afraid all day long at the same time. The biggest barrier to courage is armour – what we’re like when we’re in fear. Courage is a skill set that is teachable, observable and measurable.
Ask yourself this – at the end of your life, looking back, you might ask – what if I would have shown up more? What if I’d been braver? The reason we’re not brave is because of what others might think but the truth is that no-one is looking at you! Everyone else is too busy doing their own thing.
The gift of feeling and being brave and being able to straddle the tension between fear and courage and taking action anyway is that you will never feel more alive!
What does this mean for your leadership? Are you thinking about the future of leadership and what you could do differently? Is building courage a conversation that is happening in your team, workplace or industry? How could you increase your courage skills? How could you support your people to develop theirs?
The future of leadership that I learnt from Brené? More honesty. More courage. More clarity. More connection. More heart. I want to join her in changing my world by being and doing more. How about you?