Leaders Need to Know the Work of Brené Brown

I’m always surprised to find someone in leadership who hasn’t yet seen, heard, or read the work of Brené Brown.

Rather than give you her bio or answer “Why do I need to know her work?,” I will let you follow the links to learn more, or watch her seminal TED talk, or watch her Netflix special. Here, I’ll start to share some of the impact of her work.

I’ve been most deeply affected by her study on the effects of shame, both at home and in the workplace. Our word choices have tremendous impacts on people, and based on the data she’s derived, I hope I’ve changed some of mine to better reflect my intended communication. Beyond some of the big picture thoughts on vulnerability and shame, though, I’m a believer in many of her practical, on-the-ground suggestions for solving problems and facilitating discussions.

For several years, many people have been translating her thoughts from books like Daring Greatly and Rising Strong into workplace leadership roles, but this year, she did that for us and wrote Dare to Lead. I’m going to share some of my favorite thoughts and tools from that book in the coming weeks, but for right now, just two notions by way of introduction:

Data show that vulnerability and courage matter; it’s not just a philosophy or theory.

Brené is a researcher. All her conclusions, recommendations, and tools are based on 400,000 data points collected and observed over decades.

Feelings matter. Behaviors matter. It’s not either/or.

Those who work to solve problems in organizations tend to focus on one or the other. If you look back over our weekly blog posts, you’ll find a lot about behaviors and some about feelings. I’ve avoided discussing the role of feelings, however I’ve done better since embracing the work of Patrick Lencioni. Brown’s data pushes me further:

  • Teams lose productivity because we avoid tough conversations (productive conflict) about behaviors. This happens because we fear how we make ourselves or others feel.
  • We manage behaviors and avoid talking about feelings because we are afraid of building vulnerability-based trust.
  • The root of our avoidance of vulnerability stems from our own perfectionism and fears of failure, being wrong, and/or losing control.
  • Leaders and teams who embrace vulnerability while intentionally avoiding blaming and shaming are more productive, happier, and more engaged.

So, what if we start small, and just ask ourselves two questions before, during, and after any tough interaction?

  1. Was I clear, kind, and honest?
  2. Did I cultivate hope rather than producing shame?

The second question points to the need to stay focused on the future. This shows that we have faith in the ability of others to do better next time. This is better than simply condemning and punishing the past.

Upon reflection, my early approach to behavior had a bit of Brené in this post from 2001: Effective Feedback is About the Future.

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