Brene Brown at NBForum 2019

The future of leadership is courage

We are in desperate need of braver leaders and more courageous cultures. We cannot address the problems we´re facing today without more courage. That was the message from Brené Brown at NBF Helsinki.

-If you have a shame based culture in your company, innovation and creativity die right away, she said.

When interviewing creative leaders from all over the world Brown was asking what is the future of leadership. The striking result was that every single leader gave the same answer regardless of business or country: the future of leadership is courage. – We are in desperate need of braver leaders and more courageous cultures since we simply cannot address the problems we´re facing today without more courage.

When getting into the subject Brown asked what are the skills that overpin the courage. Most of the leaders were of the opinion that it doesn´t require any specific skills, you either have it or you don´t. For Brown it meant they couldn´t identify what courage looks like.

So, she turned the question upside down and asked what does the absence of courage look like and what are the leaders facing every day when there is not enough bravery? This is what came out from the responses:

  1. The lack of ability to have honest tough conversations
  2. The lack of attending to the feelings and fears that are driving bad behaviour in the organisation
  3. Being stuck in setbacks
  4. No courage to stay in the problem (to learn) since we are so eager to solve the problems quickly
  5. Organisations that are not built on inclusivity, diversity and equity
  6. Shame and blame

Do you armour up when in fear?

Brown then asked the audience what is the biggest barrier from being courageous leader at work? – The answer is armour, she said. – It´s not that we´re afraid but how we respond to fear. We´re all afraid. The question is when you´re in fear do you armour up? The armour is getting in the way of courage, not our fear. We put our armour up because we don´t want to get our heart hurt.

According to Brown armour has a lot of different forms: perfectionism, scarcity, cynicism, hustling for our worth. Armoured leaders put more importance of being right, courageous leaders put more importance on getting it right. – There´s a big difference in need to be right compared to the need of getting it right, she reminded.

Brown said she came to the conclusion that courage is not inherent but teachable and introduced four skill sets you need to build in order to grow your courage:

  1. Rumbling with vulnerability
  2. Living into our values
  3. Trust
  4. Learning to rise

What do these skill sets mean? Here are a couple of examples:

Rumbling with vulnerability. There is no courage without vulnerability but the most vulnerably feeling is joy. We tend to be so afraid of joy that we rather choose disappointment. Replace the armour with grounded confidence and curiosity. The best transformational leaders don´t have the best answers but instead the best questions.

Live into your values. It is better not to have values if they are not translated into real behaviours. Otherwise they mean nothing.

Vulnerability is the new normal

The bottom line of Brown´s speech was clear. – We cannot get where we want without being brave and we cannot be brave without being vulnerable. Vulnerability is the ability to show up and to be seen and stay engaged when you´re in fear and uncertainty. The number one reason we feel ashamed at work is the fear of being irrelevant. When we are afraid of being irrelevant we armour up. But remember that the armour you wear during change will guarantee your irrelevance. Vulnerability is scary but not as scary as having to ask yourself what if I hadn´t taken the chance or haven´t started the business. Change is the time to take the armour off, get curious and grow!

Photo: Nordic Business Forum/Pasi Salminen





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