What courageous leadership looks like in practice

As Brené Brown releases her second podcast called ‘Dare to Lead’ (after her incredible book and a decade of research) I reflect on the lessons in leadership that I have learned from the work and how they play out at Conscious Creatives.

As I write this I am listening to episode 1 of Brené’s new Spotify exclusive podcast and honestly, I am feeling a little bit smug. It won’t last long because her work always provides new insights and lifts the rug on things I’ve been trying to sweep away. 

Getting introduced to the work

I first came across Brené’s work when my now coach recommended a check out a Ted Talk that was going kinda viral around the subject of vulnerability. 

While I watched this incredible woman tackle some of the most challenging work in understanding yourself in a gentle and humorous way, she began to give me words and sentences to describe experiences I recognised but had literally never spoken a word of before. She started the real journey of courageous leadership.

I grew up in a house that was not curious. Things were exactly as they were and that it’s best to fit in and go un-noticed. We didn’t talk about vulnerability as a tool but as a negative. I don’t think that my parents were avoiding difficult questions I just don’t think they had the tools to facilitate those kind of conversations. 

Somehow though…

I did stay curious. 

So when I heard someone talking about ‘being in the arena’ and that there is no experiencing joy without getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I knew that I wanted to find ways of bringing these lessons into my life. 

Courageous leadership workshop creating an agile workflow and showing the team
Not us obviously! Maybe one day we will go into an office?

Running a daring business with courageous leadership

Around the same time I decided that it was time to create a business and that business should focus on working with ‘good companies’. To do that I needed to explore what a good company was and how I could create my own version of that. 

The thing is…

Running a business is scary and difficult and constant and unrelenting and did I mention difficult? So just getting through that process was tough, let alone trying to do it in the ‘right’ way. So I am completely and utterly in an unresourceful state, armour up, hiding my pain and trying to smile through it and run my business like the strong man I should be.

Yeah, that didn’t work. So a couple of years in after huge changes I took an opportunity to relocate. I moved to Cornwall, 3 miles from my front door to the sand and sea. I did this so that I could reconnect and look after myself. Being kind to me is not always easy but this was one of the best gifts that I have given myself. 

Here I can really reflect and learn about myself. Here I can figure out how I want to show up, even when I’m scared or feeling like I am an imposter. Here I can begin to lead a team. 

Demonstrating courageous leadership taking the team up to the top of a mountain
Again…not us but we would totally climb a mountain together!

How we show up as a team

We are a small team but I have been preparing for this for a long time now and it’s such a joy to show up with the same people all the time. To build relationships with them together and as individuals. 

Our team is mostly in Cornwall but we work remotely, which presents its own challenges and opportunities. It’s difficult to form that connection needed but it also gives us great freedom and independence to thrive. 

Here are a few of the key things that we do:

Induction

Start as you mean to go on. During our first week of new hires, we go through BRAVING Brené’s model of trust. We walk through what this looks like inside the business and share examples of where each of the pieces shows up. 

We go through Square Squad where we look at how to stop listening to critics and listen to feedback from the people that matter. 

The induction is a week long too. No day 1 hi and day 2 do you job and be fully accountable. It takes time to embed yourself into an organisation and waiting for a week to talk about trust and values is a far better investment than forcing people into roles that they don’t fully understand. 

Values

Having a clear set of values makes everything a little easier. Having those values embedded into the company by figuring out how those values show up in behaviours is even easier.

We have a list that you can see here and behaviours that align with them. This gives everyone in the company a clear definition of what’s ok and what’s not ok. It helps us set boundaries (which is the ‘B’ in BRAVING) with each other and between the company and our team. 

Cultures thrive when there is a shared language and commitment to a set of behaviours that align with the stated values. 

Making notes during a meeting so that we can lead courageously with each other

Courageous leadership in meetings

We have a weekly meeting with a set and similar agenda. We open talking about the weekends, we laugh, we joke and we get through that initial few minutes of awkward video chat stuff. 

A recent addition has been that after this and before we talk work we turn off our videos and mute while we take 3 minutes for some 7-11 breathing. We were taught this by my coach Fi as a way of grounding ourselves. 

We then close out making sure that we each know our actions for the week and get them planned in. This gives us a good sense of clarity as we all disappear for the week. I often try to get another meeting with everyone during the week to check in but often it’s communication through slack as we all go about our jobs. 

I can be confident in this light touch management because I trust my team. This is something we worked on from day 1.

Development

I remember in my early jobs how much I just wanted someone to take a chance on me. I knew that my ambition and qualifications/experience did not add up but I also knew that I was a kinaesthetic learner so traditional study methods were no good for me.

With my team I’ve tried to buy them short courses that they want to do and that will have a benefit to the business so that they can immediately and practically apply what they have learned. 

It’s also great to promote from within. We are supporting our staff to not only meet the future needs of the business but give them a career path they can be excited about. 

Staying accountable

The final part is to make sure that there are enough mechanisms in place to keep me accountable as the leader. So yes that means I am trying to develop my business to build a board but it also means encouraging employees to join unions, making sure that they have mentors in and out of the business and access to mental health support. 

It also means encouraging my team to hold me accountable and creating a culture where calling me out is ok. That’s not the easiest part but I know that when we reach there that the team will be as invested in the company as I am. 

What more could a leader ask of his team?

I of course do not have all (or really many) of the answers. I’d love to hear from other leaders about how they step up in their community, their business, their family or however. You can find a post about this blog on our LinkedIn page – come share your stories!


   

About the Author

Mark is CEO of Conscious Creatives. A passionate believer in doing the right thing is the key to being successful. He is also a photographer, filmmaker, writer and speaker.

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