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Leadership lessons from Brené Brown

We’re 99.99% sure that you’ve heard of Brené Brown. She’s a modern-day icon, an accomplished TED Talker and the author of five New York Times bestsellers.

At Pragmatic Thinking, we’re huge fans of Brené’s research and so it made sense that we’d head on down to see Brené on-stage at her recent tour.

Alison (our CEO) and Mikey (our Cultural Strategist) snagged some of the best seats in the house at the Melbourne leg of the tour, here’s what happened.

Brené Brown – The Experience

I could hardly see the woman up on stage in front of me, despite sitting only a dozen rows back. I was close to the front but there were 4000 others who could see better due to the two rows of unusually tall people sitting in front of me. When I realised who these people were, it made sense.

20 years ago, I reckon it would be highly unlikely to see the captain and ruckman of an AFL team sitting front and centre taking notes at an event discussing shame and vulnerability.

Times have changed, and it’s about time.

It just so happens I was sitting behind these guys and was very happy to be doing so. The messages Brené Brown so deftly shares are exactly the kind of messages our leaders need to be hearing and sharing with their teams – especially leaders with the influence an AFL club has.

Rather than share the content that resonated from Brené’s presentation, which is readily available here, I’d rather share some observations from the event to provide further context as to why this content is so important.

 

What I loved about hearing from Brené Brown:

There are three things that stood out for me when hearing from Brené Brown.

 

#1: Stories

Firstly, it’s what she shared. They were stories. Real stories. Personal stories experienced directly, and stories of others witnessed first-hand. These aren’t just incidental anecdotes, they are powerful insights backed-up by qualified data.

The validity of her research gives the stories gravitas, but it’s the manner in which the stories are shared that engenders trust and connection.

While the data may be abstract, the stories are familiar and therein lies their power – we can relate. The details are different, but the experience is common.

 

#2: Relatability

Beyond what Brené shared, it’s how she shared this content that makes it so relatable. No bells or whistles, no smoke machines, lasers or hype music. Simply, a woman telling stories. Powerful, true stories.

There is an art to storytelling and its value is not only in how well-crafted the performance is, but it’s also in how true the message is. Great storytellers are not necessarily great performers, they’re messengers of truth.

 

#3: Relevance

This content and these lessons are so relevant now. If we’re to take a step back and look at the current leadership landscape, it’s clear that Brené Brown’s message and her style represents a zeitgeist. We need these conversations and the timing is right.

These skills, the capability and willingness of leaders to embrace courage and vulnerability and to deploy these within teams are not aspirational, they’re essential. This is the future of leadership we so desperately need now.

 

Where to from here?

So, what to do with all of this? We know that there is an urgent need for us all to apply these insights and this awareness. The question is, how? That’s our current challenge – as workplaces and companies who champion culture, how do we do it well.

While we have plenty of tried and tested methodologies backed by science and experience, the truth is it’s an on-going, iterative experience. In order to change culture, we need to challenge and change beliefs and behaviours.

While this can be challenging, what we’ve come to know is that this is a challenge we must face and continue to step up into. It’s a challenge we must lean into, with the same vulnerability and courage that we’re trying to normalise in our workplaces.

The cost of not doing this is chronic disengagement, dysfunction and irrelevance. The opportunity on the other hand, is to create a workplace culture that provides psychological safety whereby everyone is encouraged to be their best and contribute to a more connected and compassionate workplace.