What Brené Brown’s Rising Strong Can Teach You About Business

The leadership pipeline is broken. How to fix it? Some might suggest you ask for a raise. Others might say you ask for a promotion, seat at the table, or spot in the board room. But Brené Brown suggests something different: be vulnerable.

As a mother to a two-year-old, I picked up Brené Brown’s Rising Strong with one purpose in mind: learning how to lean into the vulnerability of motherhood (toddler moms, are you with me?). What I didn’t expect was all of the professional insights I would gain. Fellow HR professionals, pour yourself a glass, because most of the advice will challenge the status quo. As for me, I can’t wait to implement!

1. Don’t be afraid of failure. In a brilliant introduction, a spokesperson from Engineers without Borders (EWB) began her speaking engagement by asking the audience for words they associated with the term failure. The audience members shouted out the following:

sadness, fear, making a fool of myself, desperation, panic, shame, and heartbreak. 

She then held up EWB’s failure report and explained that the 30 glossy pages included 14 stories of the company’s various failures. She proceeded to ask the audience what words they would use to describe the report and the people who so willingly submitted their stories of failure. This time the words shouted out included:

helping, generous, open, knowledgeable, brave, and courageous.

The spokesperson made the powerful point that there’s a vast difference between how we view our own failures and how others view them when we are bold enough to voice them. The key to bravery, then? Vulnerability.

2. Be intentional about the feedback you choose to take to heart. Brown suggests that when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. So, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives.

3. Give yourself and others permissions at the onset of tough meetings or conversations. Fellow HR professionals and managers, this one’s for you. Brené and her team often start difficult team meetings by writing permission slips and sharing them with one another before the meeting begins. She wants all participants in the meeting to have freedom on both ends of the spectrum: freedom to speak without fear of being offensive, and freedom to feel vulnerable without choosing to take offense. You’ll likely get push-back on this one, but the results are incredible.

4. Creating boundaries establishes your credibility; it doesn’t diminish it. When you value your work enough to put a fair and appropriate price on it, you create a boundary. Instead of doing someone a favor by offering your services for free, when you require proper payment for services rendered, you send the message that you’re confident in the work you do.

5. Be generous in your assumptions. Fellow HR professionals and managers, another for you. Every time someone addresses a conflict with a colleague, Brown asks, “What is the hypothesis of generosity?” In other words, she asks the person who approached her what the most generous assumption is that you can make about what this person said or about this person’s intentions.

She suggests maintaining the following mantra: “What boundaries do I need to put in place so I can work from a place of integrity and extend the most generous interpretations of the intentions, words, and actions of others?” Wow. That’s good. So good.

So yes, if you deserve a raise you should ask for it. If you want a seat at the table, spot at the board room, go puppy-guard your spot. But if you want to be successful in your work and work relationships, establish your credibility, and set appropriate boundaries, be vulnerable. Care about what the right people think, and don’t look back.


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