Humans. We’re amazing beings. Complex, endearing, engaging, sometimes frustrating, amazing beings. That’s what makes being in community with other humans so much fun. And a key attribute of being human is our need to connect with others, to be part of the group, to know we are seen by others and matter to them. That level of connection, however, requires openness and vulnerability – attributes not often encouraged or fully supported at work.
That’s why Brené Brown is one of my heroes. Her keynote at Workhuman last year had everyone on their feet, laughing, dancing, and ultimately crying. She fearlessly helped us all face our biggest fears, including vulnerability. That’s what she does again in her latest book, “Dare to Lead.” The book compiles and expands on her research from prior books to create a handbook for leaders of all kinds and at all levels on how to bring your whole heart to the tough conversations that are necessary in any real, human relationship, especially at work.
Throughout the book, three themes kept surfacing.
We’ve all grown up with feedback, from our earliest memories of learning how to share with others to coaches in our kids’ league sports, to skills we learn as adults. Yet in the workplace, feedback has somehow become a dirty word, a scary prospect, something that makes us feel small before we ever hear it.
Brené turns that concept on its head, reminding us that “clear is kind.” When we can clearly offer direction, correction, and encouragement, we are truly being kind. It’s when we waffle and try to avoid the hard conversations with wishy-washy sentiments, we end up causing confusion and hurt. Holding a mindset of honesty and receptiveness – both when giving feedback to others and receiving it yourself – is critical to successful feedback conversations.
2. Connection and Courage
Human beings are made to connect with others. Without connection, we’re lonely, which significantly and negatively impacts our physical and psychological health. In the workplace, Brené reports “diminishing trust caused by a lack of of connection and empathy” is one of the 10 behaviors and cultural issues identified by leaders as getting in the way of success.
We need connection with others, but we can’t connect without trust. Trust is foundational to so many aspects of the human condition, including courage, which begins with trust.
Courage is contagious. To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.
If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves, including their unarmored, whole hearts so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people – we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.
Part of connecting with others is feeling like we belong. But to truly belong, we have to be real with ourselves and with others. Being real requires tough conversations. Brené emphasizes brave leaders must not avoid one of the most important, brave discussions every organization, every team needs to have around privilege. She says:
I haven’t been in a company in five years where people aren’t whispering, ‘This is great, but, um, how do we talk about race?’ My response: ‘You first listen about race. You will make a lot of mistakes. It will be super uncomfortable. And there’s no way to talk about it without getting some criticism. But you can’t be silent.’ To opt out of conversations about privilege and oppression because they make you uncomfortable is the epitome of privilege.
All three of these are very interlinked – we can’t give or receive feedback in any kind of helpful way without connection with others and sense of inclusion in the group.
(Brené Brown will be a mainstage keynote speaker next week at Workhuman Live 19, in Nashville, March 18-21.)