Brene Brown’s website says that she is ‘a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.’ However, that does little justice to who this lady actually is. Brene Brown is a really inspiring woman who has been so courageous as to tell the world that what she believed for most of her life was actually not how the human mind (especially her’s) functions, and that to get where we want to get with purpose and authenticity, we need to embrace vulnerability and shame.
What stops us from being vulnerable is nothing else but ourselves and the social constructs that we have created around us. What makes us cringe if we think of shame? Why do we feel that we must not fail? If one takes a moment to step back and think about this, in all probability we would just be surprised at the number of times we refuse to let ourselves feel and fail, and the reasons have no basis in reality – it is based on the way we have conditioned ourselves.
Brene Brown’s research demystifies all of this. In her first TED Talk that went absolutely viral, she tells us about how those who have a strong sense of worthiness are those who believe that they are worthy of love and belonging, and those who struggle with it are those who are always wondering if they are good enough. When she went deeper into studying the people who she initially titled ‘whole-hearted’, she realized a few interesting things. One thing absolutely common among them was their sense of courage. She realized that these were people who had the courage to be imperfect. The second was that they had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others. She also found that ‘as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.’
Finally, what they also had in common with each other was that they embraced the thought and the willingness to be vulnerable. What they thought was fundamental was the need to do things that did not have any guarantees and Brown’s words describe this the best. She says, ‘They talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first ... the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees ... the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.’ This research defies a lot of what we eventually become conditioned to be like.
While I was taking all of this in, I came across another speaker who likes to shake things up a bit. Dan Pink’s ‘The Puzzle of Motivation’ is another such talk that I would encourage anyone in any field of work to listen to. In this talk, Pink discusses how the world of modern psychology is leaning more and more towards intrinsic motivators – a fundamentally crucial thought for any one of us working with people. Within that, he says that in the business setting it revolves around three attributes, i.e. autonomy (the desire to define our own lives), mastery (the urge to develop our skills and continue to strive towards being better and better) and purpose (‘the need to do what we do for a reason better than ourselves’).
And then it all falls together - while there might be many management theories that will bucket and put in systematic theories how it is possible to achieve this, there is no way we are going to ever be able to get ourselves to a satisfactory state of all these three unless we are willing to be vulnerable. Autonomy requires us to take that big leap of faith, to allow us to take the entire responsibility of where we have come and where we are about to go. Mastery requires for us to have that very honest conversation with ourselves repeatedly about where we are and where we would like to be. To think through all the things that we need to do to get where we want to be. Finally, purpose requires us to acknowledge that we are not the reason, that many a times we are even inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. None of this will happen if we are not willing to be vulnerable - to accept that none of these gives one any guarantees, and that we are alright with being kind to ourselves in this journey towards excellence.
As people who are responsible for creating and driving culture in organizations, it becomes imperative for us to think if we allow our people to accept who they are and whether we create that safe space where being vulnerable pushes our people towards the autonomy that they need to excel, the mastery that they dream of, and the larger purpose for which they are doing what they do. It’s thrilling to imagine the potential that would be released by all three, while at the same time terrifying to think that one has to be so vulnerable to make that happen.
And finally, as people who would like to drive this among the people who we serve, are we being authentic enough with ourselves to be able to genuinely ask our people to let go? At this point, what comes to mind is what Brown discovered as she continues to research her way through vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, 'Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.'
I can only imagine the power of that in the workplace.