The Best of Brené: Learning Courage

By Lauren Brown

Can courage be learned? Yes. But not without the foundation of vulnerability.

On Tuesday, author, researcher, and storyteller Brené Brown modeled this when she launched into her WorkHuman keynote with a story about a llama being named after her followed by an audience exercise that involved laughing, singing, and a full-on dance party. And it’s no surprise. Her recent book, “Braving the Wilderness,” talks about what courage looks like: strong back, soft front, wild heart. It was courageous and totally vulnerable. And. It. Was. Awesome.

But what she talked about after that was even better. She decided not to go into the neuroscience of recognition, but the connection piece, and what she thinks gets in the way of us recognizing each other and being grateful. It’s our almost innate aversion toward vulnerability – something that can conjure feelings of shame, anxiety, and fear, but is also the birthplace of creativity, empathy, beauty, and the biggest feeling: joy.

According to Brené, there’s not a single act of courage that doesn’t involve vulnerability.

“Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s about the courage to show up and be seen when you don’t know the outcome. If you set up a culture within your organization where there’s no tolerance for vulnerability, no tolerance for failure, then there’s no room for innovation, productivity, or creativity,” she said.

In her research, Brené has broken down courage into four learnable skills: vulnerability, clarity of values, trust, and rising skills.

She’s seen that when people feel connected to the company’s values is when work becomes meaningful. It creates an environment where people feel like they belong and where they can bring their whole selves to work. It also fosters trust among employees on a peer-to-peer level, and between them and their managers.

“Vulnerability is the magic sauce that makes connection possible. It lets us see each other,” she said. “And connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued, when they can give and receive without judgment, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

What is the one variable shared by the men and women who have the deepest capacity to be vulnerable and fully lean into joy? Gratitude. “Stopping to be grateful for someone, to ask for feedback – this is the looking-people-in-the-eye stuff, the hard conversation stuff,” she said.

Any time you put yourself out there – any time you’re vulnerable or courageous, you risk being judged and criticized. Being truly brave means doing something and possibly failing, but the opposite of that means never experiencing personal or professional growth.

“We have a human need, more primal, we all need to be seen and known. It’s hard to be seen and known if you’re not vulnerable,” Brené said. “But it’s not as dangerous and scary as getting to the end of our lives and saying what if I had shown up? What if I had tried?”

The bottom line? We can’t make the world a braver place if we don’t change the way we work.

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Lauren Brown is a senior copywriter for Globoforce.