Her groundbreaking TedTalk, “The Power of Vulnerability”, has been viewed over 35 million times, making it one of the five all-time most popular entries in that series. In the talk, Brown covers the ways in which many people struggle letting themselves feel vulnerable, and how we’ve been particularly conditioned to suppress our vulnerability at work.
Applying Brené Brown’s ideas about vulnerability in the workplace can be an ongoing challenge in terms of effort, mindfulness, and energy — but the outcomes are more than worth the effort. Let’s take a look at a few specific examples of how we can put her concepts into practice today and start living our best lives.
As humans, we’re wired to desire connection with others. Whether it’s formal collaboration or ad hoc commiseration, these connections with our colleagues deepen our own experiences and can give us great satisfaction.
Brown advocates for a concept she’s named true belonging, which she explains in an interview with Dan Schwabel for Forbes:
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
By being intentional about creating opportunities for people to connect with each other, you can help to foster this spirit of true belonging on your own teams. Don’t settle for basic day-to-day interactions that are related to the tasks at hand; focus on creating an environment where your team feels comfortable being who they are and connecting with each other on that level.
Embracing shame and having the courage to be imperfect
For Brown, shame is one of the main blockers between us and the connections that foster true belonging. To her, feelings of shame push people into the opposite of vulnerability, forcing them to act “cool” when what they really need is connection. In an interview with Scott Barry Kaufman, Brown focuses on how the need to be cool prevents us from being the best versions of ourselves:
“Cool is the need to be perceived as completely in control, completely certain, risking no emotional exposure at all. It’s the straightjacket of, “I’ve got everything managed.” It’s emotional stoicism, not emotional exposure. Cool is really dangerous.
There’s that great quote from Almost Famous: ‘The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you say to somebody when you’re being uncool.’”
As a leader, one of the ways you can incentivize vulnerability in your team is to model it authentically yourself. Think about how you interact with your team, other leaders, and your managers. Do you feel the need to always be seen as perfect and in control? How does that need relate to the way you really feel?
By modelling vulnerability, you can show your own team that it’s okay to admit to imperfections — in fact, it’s one of the first steps towards real growth and connection.
Create a safe environment where failure is openly talked about, but not in a negative way. Rather, use failures as learning experiences so you can approach something differently the next time around.
Compassionate leadership starts with treating ourselves kindly
If we don’t want to get caught in the trap of always trying to be “cool,” we all need to develop a lot more compassion for ourselves. Without self-compassion, we can get stuck in negative feedback cycles of shame and lose our way as leaders. We’re not supposed to be perfect, and admitting that can help us be better leaders.
“When you cannot ask for help without self-judgment, you are never really offering help without judgment,” Brown says. “Because you have attached judgment to asking for help.”
To be truly great leaders, we need to support our teams’ efforts to do their best work. If they feel that they’re being judged negatively when they ask for the support they need to succeed, we’re just passing the cycle of shame down to them.
One of the best ways to help teams feel comfortable voicing their needs is by using technology that helps lower the barriers between leaders and teams.
It can be very intimidating to walk into a supervisor’s office in front of everyone and ask for help, so an alternative path for seeking help can be a gamechanger. With the right tools, you can uncover that need for support (and discover how best to offer it).
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