Daring to lead

I’m reading a leadership book by Brené Brown, Dare to Lead. It’s the book we’re discussing at work in a book club I’ve started.

The sub-title for the book, to give you an idea of it, is:

  • Brave Work
  • Tough Conversations
  • Whole Hearts

It’s about daring to step into discomfort and lead wholeheartedly in work.

And it’s brilliant.

I read it a while ago when it first came out but reading it again and making notes to guide what I want to get out of the conversation with other leaders at work has been really helpful.

Here are my thoughts from what I’ve learnt so far:

What gets in the way of daring leadership

I’ve nodded a resounding ‘yes’ when reading what gets in the way of developing potential in others and in the work we do:

  1. Avoiding tough conversations – choosing comfort instead
  2. Not addressing fears and feelings
  3. Lack of empathy
  4. Fear of failure and perfectionism, which stunts creativity and risk
  5. Getting stuck and defined by failure, setbacks and disappointment
  6. Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning
  7. Moving to fix stuff instead of staying with the problem to really learn about it

Whose opinion matters

Through what I’ve read to date, I’ve considered whose opinion of me matters in my work and have been reminded of how often I’ve been swayed by naysayers who sit back and criticise whilst avoiding involvement in imperfect, messy work that has the risk of failure. I feel lucky to have people in my organisation who I respect and trust – who will stand alongside me and give me honest feedback to help me on my path.

What quotes have resonated with me?

I’ve loved so much of what I’ve read – the book is now littered with underlines and highlights. Some of the words I’ve especially loved are below:

“Vulnerability isn’t winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.”

“Great leaders make tough ‘people decisions’ and are tender in implementing them, giving people a way out with dignity.” 

I’ve wondered whether the processes organisations have in place to ensure a consistent approach to how people are treated takes away the humanity in things such as the management of poor performance or how redundancies take place.

“If you believe people are doing their best, you sometimes can no longer know how to lead them. The strategies of pushing and grinding the same issues must give way to the difficult tasks of teaching the team, reassessing their skills gaps, reassigning them or letting them go.”

Shame

A whole chapter of the book is dedicated to how shame manifests at work.

Many of the areas where shame manifests – not getting a promotion, being demoted, public belittling by a superior at work – aren’t experiences I’ve had. But I did spot one source of shame that I think is particularly rife at the moment and that I’ve had experience of during this period of pandemic:

“Shame is seeing things change so quickly and not knowing how and where I can contribute. The fear of being irrelevant can be a huge shame trigger.” 

I’ve been thinking where this shame shows up in me – a lot of self-talk about not being a ‘good enough’ leader or not knowing how to contribute in a meaningful way to make things better – and I’m sure this is showing up in others right now.

So if you feel this way, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to hustle for worthiness, trying to be more than you are. Yes, strive for being helpful, but your innate worthiness as a human being isn’t solely down to you being the most helpful or saving the world through covid-19.

Values

One part of the book that I’m struggling with a bit is around values.

I’ve had my share of working with values over the years – at most, I’ve seen them as something used as a measurement (i.e. you get to go on this leadership development programme because you’ve shown that you are accountable and you challenge the status quo!) and at worst they are words used that get put on marketing packs and are miles away from the experience of people working within the organisation.

If I’m honest, I don’t like them.

But this isn’t what I’m struggling with – the book is in agreement with my dislike for these measurements and Brené says that only 10% of companies she’s worked with have measurable values that are used to train employees and hold them accountable. And without this, they’re really just empty words that serve no purpose and can actually do more harm than good.

I like, instead, the concept of getting clear about individual values – what are important values that can guide us as individuals in becoming brave leaders.

In the book, there’s a list of values (I got this sheet from the Dare to Lead Resource Hub in case you’d like to use it) and you’re guided to select the two values that are the most important to you. 

Not the values you’ve been taught you should have or the values that others have taught, but the ones that define you and who you are at your best.

Mine are faithfulness – to myself, the parts of myself that I value, the issues I hold as important, to those I love – and growth – ever deepening my knowledge and experiences, like a tree reaching high and taking root low.

It’s taken me so long to find these words – it was so hard to do, because for years my natural inclination was to self-protect and so I took decisions based on what I thought others would want of me. And I channeled my growth into what I thought I should become, not what made my heart sing.

But these feel right, they feel like my words.

What the book then guides you to do is to define three or four behaviours that define these values and some slippery behaviours we’re tempted to do even though they go against our values. So here is my starter for 10:

Behaviour 1: Faithfulness

Three behaviours that support this value:

  1. Choose courage – putting myself out there – over comfort
  2. Lean into conflict and stay curious
  3. It don’t make it my job to make others more comfortable or be liked by everyone

Three slippery behaviours I find myself doing:

  1. Taking decision out of shame – thinking that I’m not enough (and trying to make up for it) or am too much (so trying to not show myself as I truly am)
  2. Choosing a shallow belonging – “you agree with me, I accept you” over the possibility of a deeper belonging “I see you and accept you for all you are”
  3. Unkind self-talk

Behaviour 2: Growth

Three behaviours that support this value:

  1. Healthy striving – wanting to explore up, down and out over following a set path
  2. Knowing this is my journey to take at my own pace – honouring my individual path instead of comparing it to others
  3. Lean into my growing edge

Three slippery behaviours I find myself doing:

  1. Fear of not belonging closes of avenues of exploration or deviant views I might hold
  2. Wanting to ‘be right’ instead of ‘get it right’ means I don’t ask beginners questions or stay curious
  3. Avoiding the discomfort of not knowing or not having an answer

It’s been really interesting to consider my values and to think more about what they might mean for me.

By being really clear about what they look like, I feel better equipped to live by them.

It was useful to hear Brené’s thoughts about how it feels to be living into her values – it’s less of an exciting flash of brilliance of living an epic life totally aligned to the values, but more like “quiet moments when I feel strong and solid.” 

I can relate to that.


So there are my thoughts of what I’ve currently read – I’ve really enjoyed and got a lot out of it and I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two from what I’ve shared.

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What’s my purpose?

I’m reading an outstanding book about women in leadership – How Women Rise. It’s showing me the behaviours that can stop me from progressing and getting what I want in my professional life. I can see lots of parallels about how it can also stop me living my best life out of work too.

Most of them are self-explanatory. I’ve listen them below in case you’re interested in learning what they are:

  1. Reluctance to claim your achievements
  2. Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions
  3. Overvaluing expertise
  4. Building rather than leveraging relationships (focusing on forming close relationships at work instead of relationships that can help achieve a goal)
  5. Failing to enlist allies from day one
  6. Putting your job before your career
  7. The perfection trap
  8. The disease to please
  9. Minimising (examples of this being when you say ‘I just think…’ ‘ I don’t know but maybe…’)
  10. Too much (harnessing your emotions at work in a way that is tempered with experience and intention)
  11. Ruminating on the past
  12. Letting your radar (ability to read so much into the subtext of a situation) distract you

If any of these make you feel uncomfortable (i.e. “I strongly disagree with that, I could never harness relationships as that seems so underhand”) I’d encourage you to read the book.

I bought it for 99p on my kindle so it’s not a pricey read.

I can see myself in some of the chapters.

I’ve put down the perfectionism and ‘disease to please’ but know I don’t leverage relationships enough (the thought of that makes me uncomfortable) and can see myself in the last three chapters. Not knowing how to be a person with emotions in the workplace. dwelling on situations where I wasn’t my best, being so in touch with subtext that I get distracted from going after what I want.

It’s really challenging me and making me think hard about how I am in the workplace.

It’s also affirming that I can be me – a strong female who is in touch with her feelings – and still fly in the workplace.

It’s encouraging to hear the authors advocate for small, incremental changes to modify behaviour instead of pushing for epic changes which get abandoned after a few days or weeks because it’s all too much.

They noted that a great motivator for these changes is to work on my pitch – my ‘greater purpose’ for doing what I want to do – and look to make changes that will help me to get to where I want to be.

This has been really helpful, but also challenging because I don’t really have a detailed purpose.

I have drive.

I have ambition to do great work, work which has greater impact.

I have a desire to keep on learning and developing.

But no greater purpose.

I don’t have a calling to work in housing to reduce the amount of homeless people – although I’d love to see that happening and play a part in it.

I can’t see myself going into policy to reform early education – although I’d greatly desire to be in a position to influence this vital time of childhood development.

I don’t have ‘preventing irrevocable climate change’ as the thing I will do, although I can see myself playing a part in this through the individual and collective choices I make.

So what is my purpose?

Here are the things that spring to mind:

  • Enabling others (through coaching, connecting, ideation) to be the best they can be
  • Creating and building capacity for organisations to tackle issues in different ways – i.e. managers gaining in effectiveness
  • Enabling wide-scale change of societal issues through facilitation or different approaches, like user-centred design

These things seem to touch on what I want to do, but they don’t quite hit the spot. They don’t mean that I can say ‘so I want to work on ‘X’ so I can get to where I want to be.

Or moreso my response doesn’t mirror the book where people have a reason for being at an organisation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love where I work (for the most part!) but I don’t love it because I want to rise up to become Head of HR or a director. I work there because the leaders inspire me, I have space to grow and develop and master. It allows me to balance other things that are important to me, like travelling, spending time with my family, working flexibly.

Despite not having a purpose as defined in the book, I feel that I do have a calling – to keep on learning, developing, growing. And that’s my personal calling which makes this book so intriguing to me.

I want to learn to be an effective leader.

I want to learn to work with people who come from different viewpoints of my own, both to appreciate their differences and to learn how to communicate my thoughts in a way that resonates with people who are different from me.

I want to take on all the opportunities I can to expand intellectually.

I want to learn to embrace all that I am and to step into my magnificence and brilliance.

I want all these things to happen so that I can make a difference in the roles that I am in, wherever they are.

That’s my purpose. For now at least.

The stories I tell myself

I had the most inspiring conversation with my chief executive yesterday. It’s left me with so much to ponder that I’m left thinking about it (and feel called to talk about it) at 3am as I’m awake feeding and holding my son.

I’m sat here in appreciative thanks and gratitude that I’m in a role where I get time and insight into someone I see as deeply inspirational and wise. That I have the opportunity to learn from his wisdom and that I even get some of his time is not something I take for granted. It’s a privilege.

He’s the one who let me borrow the book ‘presence’ which I wrote about recently. And he is the one who yesterday articulated what I’ve sensed myself for a while:

The only thing that will hold you back is the stories you tell yourself

  • The story that I’m not good enough
  • The story that I can’t lead because of so many reasons – my call to explore and share my vulnerability, not having a ‘business’ background, not being the finished product
  • The story that intrinsically being who I am (female, with a big heart, someone who cares, with a background of sometimes poor mental health) sets me up to have less impact on the world
  • The story that I’m 34, it’s too late for me to start something big in life
  • The story that I have to choose between being a great mum and making a difference in this world
  • The story that I’m only as good as my most recent mistake
  • The story that people will realise that I’m an imposter
  • The story that I’m only as good as how much people like me
  • The story that the deep work I do here will hold me back professionally
  • The story that being vulnerable and real is weak
  • Uncovering and vocalising these things – areas that have more or less weight in my life at different times (sometimes on a minute by minute basis) – shows them for what they are.
  • Just stories.
  • Stories that could influence and impact my life. Or stories I could realise are not reality and gently let go of.
  • It’s what I’m doing as I receive coaching on a fortnightly basis. Uncovering these stories and letting them go.
  • And it’s what I’m offering to the wonderful people I have the honour to coach myself.
  • We all have stories we tell ourselves – it’s only these stories that have the power to hold us back.