Who wouldn't want to see themselves as a brave, daring leader? It plays right into the blue-sky, pioneering almost wild-west perception of innovators and entrepreneurs, after all.
And yet, wanting to lead bravely is not the same as leading bravely. "Brave leadership," for as appealing a concept as it is, may not even be an explicit priority in your own journey as an entrepreneur. It wasn't for me, as innovation, partnership and compassion regularly took precedence.
The newest book and New York Times bestseller Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown, popular leadership author and researcher at the University of Houston, has given me cause to rethink that. Leading bravely, it turns out, requires skills like empathy, courage and vulnerability to counteract the fear, scarcity and uncertainty that defines so much of our professional lives today.
These six pivotal questions that serve as a gut-check of leadership self-inquiry and might also make our workplaces a little less fearful along the way.
What story are you telling?
This is perhaps my favorite, because the idea behind it is to weed out the assumptions that undermine a situation. It's most effective when prefaced by "What story am I telling?"
It's about having some perspective, and being mindful that there are inevitably multiple factors and variables that are entirely unrelated to the situation at hand.
"You make yourself the center of something that has nothing to do with you out of your own fear or scarcity," Brown writes, "only to be reminded that you're not the axis on which the world turns."
Pausing to understand the story we're telling ourselves, and then inviting our co-worker to identify the story they're telling themselves, may well be uncomfortable to start, but they also highlight areas of sensitivity, which are also areas ripe for compassion and brave leadership.
What accomplishment can I celebrate right now?
Not, "When everything is finished." Not, "When the check is in the bank." Now. Right now. What has someone on the team done well? "Catch them" at it, and celebrate their contribution.
What does support from me look like?
Maybe it's guarding uninterrupted time in a room with the door closed. Maybe it's a stack of sticky notes. Maybe it's training in public speaking skills. The needs will be different situation by situation, but asking the question in this way opens the door for your co-workers to articulate exactly what it is that they need to do their job best.
How can I ask for help?
It turns out that independently finishing a project perfectly, on time and on budget, isn't exactly something that earns the trust of your co-workers.
It's good for the business, undoubtedly. But is it good for the team?
That's where asking for help comes in.
"When we refuse to ask for help, we will find that we keep getting the same projects that leaders know we can do," Brown writes. "We will not be given anything that might stretch our capacity or skill set because they don't believe we will ask for help if we find ourselves in over our heads."
Ask for help as the leader. Model what that looks like. Encourage co-workers to also ask for help, and build in a culture of collaboration rather than "lone wolf."
Did I listen with the same passion with which I want to be heard?
The answer is an easy Yes when you're in a conversation about a personal relationship, for example, especially when the stakes and your own adrenaline are running high.
But what about when it's a difficult conversation at work, with someone who has a history of resisting most things you suggest? That's another story. It's a lot harder, certainly, but perhaps it's even more critical to developing your skills as a brave leader.
Do my co-workers see me as an actual human being?
Brown's research has shown that we don't trust people who don't struggle. "We also don't develop connection with people we don't find relatable," she writes. This is where the nuances of vulnerability come in, which is of the principle tenets around which the Dare to Lead book is based.
Being vulnerable as a leader doesn't mean being wishy-washy about goals or commitments. But it can mean pulling back the curtain on your own struggles during an emotionally-charged situation.