5 things I learnt about my small business listening to Brene Brown

- August 5, 2019 3 MIN READ

There are many times when the nuances of small business ownership highlight how different things can be compared to corporate life. That’s not the case, however, when it comes to leading people.

If you need the help of others to get the work done then you need good leadership skills to do it well and prosper. That’s why I was so keen to attend Brene Brown’s Dare To Lead session at the Sydney Convention Centre last week. 

In fact, I’d say practicing well-executed leadership skills in small business can be particularly challenging. Workspaces are often quite close, there’s no levels of management to buffer decisions made and there’s no HR department to negotiate a way around relationship roadblocks. That’s what makes Brene’s work on leadership so relevant to small business owners.

Brene opened her session with a call for braver, bolder leaders. As the lines between work and life become increasingly blurred we need authentic and courageous leaders who recognise that we can only ever be one person. The idea that we leave our real selves at home each morning and slip into a work persona in the office is a fallacy. It can be a daunting job leading others and in small business your effectiveness is often immediately measured by the response you get from your team. Here’s some top takeaways from Brene Brown to help develop a brave leadership style:

1. Fear of failure smothers innovation

Change and innovation are the cornerstones of business growth. Employees won’t embrace these ideas if the company culture does not tolerate failure. 

“People aren’t brave if they don’t know how to get back up.”

We need to create a workplace that accepts mistakes and provides a way to learn from them. If, when hiring someone new, we teach them that we value innovation and show them how to reset after a failure we’re more likely to benefit from their contribution to the business goals.

2. As leaders, we need to choose courage over comfort

We cannot be afraid to have the tough conversations with our team members if the situation warrants it. We need to call out the behaviours that aren’t working. We cannot secretly hope they’ll get the message we’re unhappy by guessing something is wrong.

“Your job as a leader is to excavate the unsaid.”

Focusing on behaviours rather than attitudes sets unambiguous boundaries for discussions. After all, being clear is being kind and leaves no room for misinterpretation of your performance expectations.

3. Perfectionism has nothing to do with excellence

In fact, perfectionism is grounded in a desire for approval. We strive to be perfect because we (mistakenly) think that’s how we earn belonging. 

“Perfectionism is an armour that says I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.”

Perfectionism can be dangerous in a workplace and we risk burn-out in ourselves and our team if we demand such rigorous outputs from all, all the time. It highlights our desire for control and gives us an excuse to blame – to externalise the fears we’re feeling internally about being judged, not feeling good enough or shameful.

4. Live into our values

Values help to shape our company culture, but are they incorporated into business practices? Do we see them role-modelled by the business leader? They serve no purpose on a poster in the staff kitchen – they need to be included in daily routines. Sharing and practicing values builds workplace trust.

“It is better not to have company values than to have them but they’re not operationalised into company practices.”

It takes a brave leader to embrace and live company values, especially if those values include trust, honesty and service. Workplace behaviours like gossiping, back-channelling outside of meetings, blaming or teasing highlight that company values are not embraced outside of poster platitudes. As leaders we need to resist the temptation to protect ourselves with emotional armour and instead take risks interacting and leading others.

5. Empathy is the antidote to shame

We all seek connection and in small business that’s even more important because our workplace can be so close-knit. If we truly believe that people come from a place of positive intent then we can appreciate that they’re doing the best they can at any given time – even if their decision might be a poor one. As leaders it’s our responsibility to be brave enough to explore what is working with the team and what can be improved. We need to embrace authentic, honest conversations and that happens when we can demonstrate empathy for others.

“Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.”

Empathy is the ultimate act of workplace vulnerability because we have to recognise similar experiences in ourselves to be able to connect fully with the other person. We all have an authenticity radar and isn’t it easier to work with a leader who has theirs switched onto high? 

There are simply not enough words available in this article to capture all the gems mined from Brene Brown’s talk but luckily she has a book available that captures all her key findings related to effective leadership. Do you want to improve your leadership abilities and be a courageous leader? I’d recommend Dare to Lead as an excellent starting point on this journey.