August 7, 2019

Written by: Catherine Ngo, WorkplaceInfo

Research professor, Dr Brené Brown believes the future of work belongs to leaders who are brave and bold.

The Texan is best known for her 2010 TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, which still remains as one of the top five most-watched TED talks of all time. Brené’s story and success in uncovering and promoting courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy have inspired millions to embrace new thinking.

Most recently, her new leadership focused book, Dare to Lead, discusses how, in a rapidly changing environment with an insatiable demand for innovation, one thing is clear – we need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

In her recent tour Down Under, she talks about daring leadership and building courage. She shares the six main barriers to courage in the workplace. They are:

1. Not having tough conversations


We’re not having enough challenging conversations. We’d rather talk about people and what they’ve done wrong (such as gossiping) than talk to them to address the problem.

The reason why is because it’s outside of our culture to be ‘mean’ to people. We would rather ‘be nice’. Tough conversations are never easy or fun – but we know this will only allow the problem to fester.

Brené says that HR practitioners should remember that asking leaders to have hard conversations is like asking an airline passenger to fly the plane based on their number of frequent flyer points. This is because having tough conversations is a skill and HR practitioners need to help leaders with developing this.

2. Not embracing fear and feelings


Brené says this missing skill is "the worst one on the list" due to its inherent difficulty.

HR tends to spend an unreasonable amount of time dealing with people's fears when it should really start with leaders.

Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behaviour.

3. Getting stuck in setbacks


Failure is necessary for innovation, but if leaders want to embrace failure as a cultural norm, they need to model for their people how that may look.

People are spending too much time in their setbacks and cannot reset or bounce back after a failure. That ‘bounce’, usually referred to more broadly as resilience, can be taught, but timing is key. You can't teach people to get back up from a failure "when they are on the ground."

She gives the analogy of skydiving where participants spend the majority of the time learning how to land before the actual dive. They should teach you how to get back up after you’re on the ground.  

3. Falling for action bias


People want to fix problems, but defaulting to action before strategising about the issue can lead to solving the same problem over and over again.

People tend to be fixated on controlling the situation and spending 100% of the time finding out what went wrong and whose fault it was.

Proper problem identification does require someone to sit in vulnerability to discover what really went wrong. She says that we should spend 95% of our time trying to identify the actual problem and the other 5% solving.

4. Ignoring inclusivity, diversity and equity


No one is quiet. Everyone has something to say. Leaders have a duty to “excavate the conversation from people”.

These conversations are hard for people to do, but they’re not as hard as the systemic barriers that some people face. Leaders need to have courage over comfort. If a leader opts not to talk about hard things because they aren't affected by those issues personally, they are using their privilege as a shield.

Brave leaders are never quiet about hard things. Additionally, it is not the job of the person targeted by discrimination to lead the conversation.

Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging. Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.

5. Using shame and blame


There is a difference between shame and guilt which is often mistakenly used interchangeably.

When you feel shame, you're feeling that your whole self is wrong e.g. I am bad, I am a mistake, etc. When you feel guilty, you're making a judgment that something you've done is wrong, e.g. I did something bad, sorry about the mistake, etc.

Brené  says that looking for shame in an organisation is like doing a termite inspection. If you walk through an organisation and you see shame, you have a crisis situation. Some leaders use shame as a tool and the results as we know are destructive.

Shame can only rise to a certain level in a team or organisation before people have to neurologically disengage to self protect. The more self-worth someone has, the faster they will disengage to self protect.

Brené says that if we want meaningful, lasting change we need to get clear on the differences between shame and guilt and call for an end to shame as a tool for change.

You can find out more about Brené and her research by visiting her website.