Friday, September 20, 2013

Vulnerable Leader

"Choose courage or comfort" but you cannot choose both, says Dr. Brene Brown. In her disarming TED talks and other leadership addresses, she's vulnerable in the sense of being open. Leaders who are open are approachable. Approachable leaders hear what needs to be heard in order to know how to influence and move the organization.

She often quotes Teddy Roosevelt regarding people in the arena to be valued more than the critics--" belongs to the man in the arena...". In a corollary to Roosevelt's quote, "Sign up for butt-kicking...Take your values into the arena...but have someone who can say, 'That sucked, but you were brave.'" In that sense, we need to create organizations with 'love' (for the more timid, substitute respect, dignity, esteem). Organizations without love have shame, blame, betrayal and withholding of respect. Organizations with love create a sense of belonging, fitting in. These are the irreducible needs: love and belonging. That's true of all levels including the C level. To be seen and known, and yet loved, is messy, gritty. It's difficult to love people beyond the level that we love ourselves. We can't give what we don't have. All leaders need to be connected. As Brene Brown says, "The Wizard of Oz is dead." You shouldn't hide; otherwise you're not belonging. Or you are wanting to belong to something else.

You cannot only profess vulnerability and courage. You have to practice it. You have to model asking the tough questions, and often merely ask questions to draw out the know-how the others already have. You have to seek out the termites in the organization that kill love; they will bring down the organization upon your head. You have to look into the dark corners. Like the problem with termites, if you see the damage, it's too late. Assess for shame-provoking practices and diminishing practices. Call out and actively discourage people who diminish the value and worthiness of others (i.e. shame them). Accountability is being responsible for mistakes and failures, but mistakes and failures shouldn't diminish a person's worth as a person. Performance does not equal self-worth. Otherwise, we're all just termites inflicting damage before damage is done to us.

An absence of love and belonging creates suffering. Vulnerability can increase love and belonging. If it doesn't, as Brene Brown would say, it's disappointing but not shameful. Choose courage, and step back into  the arena. For your own well-being and your organization's.

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