In the workplace, the word “leader” is often thought to describe someone in charge, or in a position of power. We may think of a leader-follower type of relationship, or in the business world, a boss-employee relationship. Every leader has a number of followers who sit lower on the workplace food chain. A leader is someone who is strong, outspoken, and king of the office. Most leaders have fancy titles, a fancy office, and other perks of which their employees don’t have the luxury.
But none of the above descriptions accurately describe what a leader really is, or should be. Clichés aside, anyone can be a leader. Titles and offices don’t define our leadership skills. Our place on the so-called workplace food chain can’t hold us back from being a leader in whatever position we have. Leadership can happen at every and all levels, and the best leadership happens when four important skill sets are exercised.
The four skill sets of brave leadership are brought to you by Dr. Brené Brown in her 2018 book Dare to Lead, which is the culmination of a seven-year study of leadership. Brown has spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is a research professor at the University of Houston.
What “leader” means to Brown challenges the stereotypical definition and poses a new way of thinking. According to Brown, a leader is “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.” Brown’s definition makes leadership attainable for everyone, but not without four skill sets:
Rumbling with Vulnerability
In order to be a leader, we need to have courage. But courage can only come when facing something we’re uncomfortable with or afraid of. Otherwise, we’re just acting within our comfort zone. Brown says her current motto is “Courage over comfort.” In order to truly be courageous, we must rumble with vulnerability.
Vulnerability often has a very negative connotation and is equated with failure, but Brown seeks to reframe the way we think of the word. While many organizations seek to minimize vulnerability and uncertainty, Brown encourages workers to embrace these qualities in their relationships with co-workers, employees, and bosses. By doing so, people will begin to build trust in each other.
An article by Forbes explains what vulnerability looks like in a work atmosphere, “It takes vulnerability to delay action and step into a coaching conversation to help a team member find their own answers. Leaders constantly need to work on stepping into tough conversations and providing honest and productive feedback, which requires this mindset.” Showing up and giving our all in a conversation or situation when we don’t know the outcome – that takes courage, and it requires vulnerability.
Living Your Values
Having values and preaching our beliefs is one thing. But actually participating in our principles and living our life according to them is another. With leadership, talking the talk is not enough. We have to be able to walk the talk.
A courageous leader is one who is constantly tying in purpose and value into every piece of work, and inspires their employees to do the same. The values of the work must be clarified and set forth by the leader to the team members. A leader should explain to each team member their specific contribution so they know their strength and can lean into it.
According to Brown, a leader’s job is to “operationalize and translate values from ideals to behaviors—teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values.” Everything a leader does and says should go hand in hand with their set of beliefs. In return, team members will be more willing to lean into the uncomfortable if they’re motivated by their values.
For any significant relationship to sustain itself, trust must be at the core. The relationship between a leader and their employees is no different. According to Brown, “Trust is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.”
Trust and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. Trust doesn’t happen overnight, but slowly builds with every small moment of vulnerability within a relationship. Having a trusting relationship means both parties choose courage over comfort time and time again.
We can earn the trust of our team by encouraging them to open up to us and providing a safe space for them to disclose themselves. We must be willing to disclose ourselves as well. Honesty is another huge element of trust-building. Rather than speaking half-truths or candy-coating issues to avoid discomfort, be clear. Discomfort is where growth and insight are born. As Brown states, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
Be sure to practice and encourage transparency within your team while also setting boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others.
Learning to Rise
Fear and failure are inevitable. Both will happen, and both have the power to shape you in a very positive or very negative manner, but only if you let them. The way in which you respond to the feelings of fear or failure is what counts. When something goes wrong, seek ways to grow from the situation and learn for next time. Developing resilience skills is really what learning to rise is about.
Brown states, “The greatest barrier to courageous leadership is not fear—it’s how we respond to our fear. Our armor—the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability—move us out of alignment with our values, corrode trust with our colleagues and teams, and prevent us from being our most courageous selves.”
Leading courageously means choosing courage over comfort, being vulnerable, applying our values, trusting others, and learning to rise when faced with failure or fear. Brené Brown outlines specific practices of daring leaders, and iGenCo is here to help you follow through. Check out our coaching services for more information.