[YS Learn] The three pillars of leadership, according to Brene Brown

While leadership has always been associated with courage and having the bravest face in the time of crisis, Brene Brown explains in her book ‘Dare to Lead’ that it is also about empathy, vulnerability, and self-care.
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With businesses floundering in the current coronavirus crisis, leaders are now shifting their views. Many are introspecting on why their business is more important than ever before and how to pivot with the changing times. The focus is on doing everything possible to ensure that their businesses survive to see another day, and come out unscathed. 

Many investors, mentors, and leaders have emphasised that now is time to be a ‘wartime CEO.’ It’s a terminology popularised by Ben Horowitz’s book - ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’.  



However, while every leader and entrepreneur is drawing up metaphorical battle lines, the time also calls for taking a pause and leading differently. While you put on your armour to face your battles, Brene Brown – author, researcher, and public speaker – adds it would also be of great help to take that armour off from time to time. 

With research and data, she has pointed out that leadership is about vulnerability, shame, and empathy. For over a decade, Brene has been speaking about the power of vulnerability, which she adds cannot be separated from courage. 

In her book, ‘Dare to Lead’, Brene adds that courage is a collection of four skill sets that can be taught, observed, and measured. The four skill sets are: rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. 

These mean you need to start by embracing vulnerability, which opens you to have tough conversations, build trust, and move ahead towards your organisational goals as a team. 

The key leadership lessons that Brene gives in her book are:

Embrace vulnerability 

In her book, Brene quotes, 

At the heart of daring leadership is a deeply human truth that is rarely acknowledged, especially at work - courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the exact same time. We feel vulnerable. Sometimes all day long. During those ‘in the area’ moments that Roosevelt described, when we’re pulled between our fear and our call to courage, we need shared language, skills, tools, and daily practices that can support us through the rumble.”

Entrepreneurship is a hard road to tread. There will be disappointments and setbacks. While many may choose to put on armour, and keep a brave face, Brene adds, it is also important to show your human side and vulnerability. 

This opens you to engage with different situations and also enables you to consider innovative ideas and solutions provided by your teammates. The first step is the willingness and the ability to rumble with vulnerability. 

Respect your team enough to have tough conversations 

Brene adds - “Once we start to build vulnerability skills, we can start to develop other skill sets.” Rumble, in this context, is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability.

Brene adds that through research it was found that most people avoid tough conversations. This includes giving honest and productive feedback. During her research, she found that leaders had attributed this to – lack of skills and courage, as many prescribe to the norm of being ‘nice and polite.’ 

Unfortunately, what this does is reduce trust and engagement, create a lack of clarity, and increase problematic behaviour such as back-channel communication, passive-aggressive behaviour, and gossip. 

Thus, to build courage in teams, it is important to have tough conversations. More often than not it is the lack of clear communication that harms organisations. With tough conversations, come vulnerability and the openness to accept it. 



Be connected with your team

Brene says in her book: “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” She explains that to build daring leadership and courage in organisations and teams, it is important to create a culture in which brave work is rewarded.

Leaders must care for and be connected with the people of their team. In all the data that Brene gathered, it was found that care and connection are irreplaceable and irreducible requirements for productive and happy relationships between leaders and team members. 

“This means that if we do not have a sense of caring toward someone we lead and/or we don’t feel connected to that person, we have two options – develop the caring and connection or find a leader who’s a better fit. There’s no shame in this – we’ve all experienced the kind of disconnection that doesn’t get better despite our strongest efforts. Understanding that commitment to care and connection is the minimum threshold, we need real courage to recognise when we can’t fully sever the people we lead.”

In a nutshell, it is important to hone and develop a culture of wholehearted engagement that comes out of embracing vulnerability. Any manifestation of fear-based leadership where armours are forced and thrust upon each individual, innovative work cannot be expected. 

As Brene says, “You can’t fully grow and contribute behind an armour. It takes a massive amount of energy just to carry air around - sometimes it takes all of our energy.”

Edited by Kanishk Singh

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