Braving Trust and Vulnerability

As we just celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I found myself thinking of what made him a good leader. He led with his values always in the forefront of his actions, his values drove everything he did. He was a servant leader, who believed in developing and empowering others, and he was a transformational leader, who had a big vision, shared that vision and challenged others to see the potential of that vision, and fought hard for change. 

He was a successful leader because he built trust and followed through with action. Brené Brown says that “trust isn’t built in grand gestures, but in the small moments that people treat what is important to you with care.” She breaks trust down into seven (7) elements (BRAVING trust): 

  1. Boundaries: Good leaders have boundaries. They set expectations, explain why those expectations are important, and they hold steady to them. 
  2. Reliability: As a leader, don’t overpromise, don’t say you will do something that you can’t do or have no intention of doing, and if you say you will do something, make sure you do it. And remember that it’s ok to say no, saying no opens you up to being able to say yes to something else. And explain the reason behind your “no”. 
  3. Accountability: We all mess up sometimes. Good leaders show vulnerability, they aren’t afraid to admit when they messed up, ask forgiveness, and figure out how to make it right. They also have to have forgiveness to allow others to do the same. 
  4. Vault: Good leaders understand that others’ come to them in confidence, and they keep that confidence. 
  5. Integrity: Good leaders lead with courage, letting their values guide them in their decisions. They do the next right thing. 
  6. Nonjudgement: Good leaders don’t pass judgement. They listen to the needs of others and their own needs and can talk through those needs without letting their own biases or perceptions take over. 
  7. Generosity: Good leaders give others the benefit of the doubt, that their actions and intentions were well intended. 

Brown’s elements of trust tie in well to psychological safety, what Amy Edmondson defines as “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Research shows that in order for teams to be successful, they must have psychological safety. 

According to Brown, leaders have to be vulnerable. Vulnerability opens us up to opportunity. We have to be able and willing to explore the emotions behind our actions or lack of action. Another way to look at this is, as leaders we have to be emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand our own emotions and how those emotions impact our actions, and how those emotions impact our ability to build relationships (both positively and negatively), and how our ability to read the emotions of others also impact our social connections. Research shows that leaders with high emotional intelligence are much more successful in leading others. 

In Daring to Lead, Brown talks about learning to rise up as leaders. She breaks it down into three steps; the Reckoning, the Rumble, and the Revolution. The reckoning is understanding that there are emotions involved and exploring those emotions. This is also the first piece of emotional intelligence, understanding that you have emotions and exploring those emotions. It’s understanding that no emotion is right or wrong and that there shouldn’t be any guilt for those emotions. It’s just sitting with those emotions and feeling them. The second step is the Rumble. This is where you start to unpack the why behind the emotions and look for the missing information that may be creating those emotions. As Brown says, in the absence of data we all make up stories to fill in the gaps. In the Rumble, we start to question where those gaps are and what information we need. We start to deconstruct our self-made story. Brown defines her final step, Revolution, as “claiming authorship of our own stories and lives…It’s taking off the armor and rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust with open hearts and learning to rise!”


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Lorrie Coffey