What makes a great leader? The answer to this question has been studied and analysed by organisations and experts for many years. Most recently, prolific author and researcher Brené Brown has found that strong leadership relies on a sense of belonging and a solid foundation of ‘connection’ with others.
She describes this connection as ‘the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued – when they can give and receive without judgment’.
Whether you are new to Brown’s work or already a fan, here are five life-altering lessons we can learn from her to be a better leader.
1. Be vulnerable
In business, we’ve always been taught to hide our emotions and to rely on our logic for influence and decision making. Yet in Brown’s pivotal research on vulnerability, she reveals that connecting with others by sharing our feelings and our faults is anything but a weakness.
In fact, it takes true strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable and admit that you do not hold all of the answers or are uncertain about an approach. In an interview with Martha Rosenberg, Brene Brown said, ‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.’
2. Lean into courage
In Dare to Lead, Brown says, ‘Leadership is not about titles or the corner office. It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage.’
This means you have to cultivate a culture where tough conversations are had and you are willing to take some level of risk. After all, if you always do what you always do, then you will always get what you always get.
Stand up for what you believe in, speak up when no-one else will and lead change when everyone else is sitting back watching. This is what a brave leader is.
3. Dare to be you
You earn trust when you demonstrate authenticity, that is, when you show the real you – warts and all. ‘Faking it until you make it’ only gets you so far and for so long. People don’t expect you to be perfect, nor do they want you to be. You are human, and that means you make mistakes and have flaws.
Brown explains people who make the most real, authentic connections are those who are willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they actually are. So then, let yourself be seen.
4. Go slow to go fast
You can’t cheat real connection. It has to be built up slowly over time. This is how trust is formed. True trust takes years to build and a second to destroy. (You only have to look at the ramifications from Australia’s Royal Banking Commission for proof of that.)
It is no longer enough to focus on remediation, action plans and ‘mopping up’ after a situation has occurred. We must do what we say and take our time to ensure a solid foundation of trust is built, first and foremost. It is this that will lead to a greater connection with our employees, stakeholders, customers and communities.
5. Show compassion
As leaders we are expected to be strategic, rational, bottom-line business people who focus on results. Yet Brown proves that truly fearless leaders are kind, compassionate and empathic.
The idea of empathy, being able to put yourself in the shoes of others, goes a long way in the most successful of connections. Compassion implies an interpersonal closeness that comes with responsibility, vulnerability and an absence of self-interest.
There is more than adequate evidence now that leaders who practise and value this, become people who others not only want to work for, but fight for.
Michelle Sales is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer, coach and author who helps senior leaders and their teams to build confidence and maximise their leadership and performance by consciously connecting with others. She is the author of the new whitepaper The Connection Deficit: Why leaders must bring both head and heart to work to build trust, lift engagement and accelerate organisational results.