The Done Right Podcast
Episode 3

Daring Greatly: Why leadership is not a job title

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half, I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

I'm here in Lehi, Utah at Workfront headquarters, and I'm so grateful that you are here to join us for this episode on daring greatly, why leadership is not a job title.

If any of you have paid attention to anything on the internet in the last few years, you're going to know about Brene Brown, and you're going to know that she is a researcher who's gotten pretty famous from her TED Talks and her books about really tough subjects. A lot of her talks have been general, talking about shame, vulnerability, and scarcity, and most recently she came out with a book called Dare to Lead. And she even has a Netflix special called The Call to Courage. 

She mentions that we spend half of our lives at work and if we can't go to work, as she says “wholeheartedly”, and really have a good experience in the workplace then there's no way that that's going to not translate into the other areas of our lives. 

So here's what I want to do for today's episode, I want to share a couple of stories from my experience on some of these tough topics, but I want to kind of do a review with some of Brene's material. And as we go through it and you're kind of thinking and listening to some of the excerpts from her work, I want you to just be honest and get real for a minute about opportunities to improve because this is not easy stuff. This is the raw, you know, tough stuff. 

Courageous leadership:

So first things first. I had a member of my team who approached me, and she said she wanted to talk. We had just finished a year-long project together and she says, “Hey I want to just debrief and kind of just clear the air on this project.” I'm like, cool. Let's talk. And I get in there and she's very prepared. She's got a list of things she wants to talk about, which is great. And I can tell that she's really anxious about the conversation and I know she's got some things that she wants to clear up. So she starts off, and she basically expresses the things that I was doing as we were working together that weren't working for her. And she was telling me how hard it was for her because of the way I was managing the work, and the way that I was leading. That was a tough pill to swallow. 

But I'll tell you what. When we think about leadership, I think we need to start thinking about it beyond our job titles because that conversation was so critical for us to improve the way we worked together. And this woman went on to have other conversations with other team members when things were kind of tough, or awkward, or there was conflict there. She showed up, and she leaned into that moment and was able to just go through that conversation and people responded so positively to that, that it's had such a big impact on our culture. 

So I want to read you Brene’s definition of leadership. And she says this, “leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people, and ideas,” (in another version of the definition she talks about in process as well) “and has the courage to develop that potential.” That's what the woman on my team did. She knew that I wanted to win, right? I wanted our team to win. But, even if I had this good intent and I was trying to do right by the team, she wanted to talk through this stuff. And that was her recognizing that there is potential here for us to improve the way that we work so that she could do her best work. 

One of the interesting things that I also realized from Brene's work, she said that when asking senior leaders what--if anything--about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to succeed, there was one answer that came across all those interviews. They basically said we need braver leaders and more courageous cultures. I couldn't agree more with that statement. So, I would just define leadership as a courageous action. 

Another sort of description of courage in the workplace comes from Korn Ferry the firm that is big time in the learning and development space but they really provide a great description to courage they say: 

“Leading is a courageous act. It’s being out front, ushering in change, and challenging the status quo. Courage involves being comfortable with the conflict that is inherent to being a champion of an idea or course of action. It sometimes means staking out tough and lonely positions. Politically risky positions. Effective leaders meet tough situations head-on to constructively resolve them. They say what needs to be said at the right time, to the right person, in the right manner to effect change. Many times it’s not positive. Something went wrong. Something is being covered up over and over. Something is not being done right. Someone isn’t performing well. Someone is holding something back. Someone is going off on the wrong track. Courage involves letting people know where you stand. Having difficult conversations. Standing alone. Being courageous requires your brain to balance fight/flight instincts with logical analysis. To weigh the benefits and drawbacks of addressing tough issues. Courage does not mean you are not afraid. Courage means you overcome the fear to do what is right.”

So, just let that sit for a minute. I think that there's probably a few--and this includes me--situations we can think of, maybe today, or even this week, where maybe we didn't show up and lean into those moments. One of the things that Brene famously says about this, about living bravely or “daring greatly” she says and I quote “You're going to get your ass kicked. At some point, if you choose courage, you will absolutely know failure, disappointment, setback, and even heartbreak. That's why we call it courage. That's why it's so rare.” So I'm listening to all this, and the question really in my mind is this: if that's what I'm going to get when I am showing up and being courageous...why would I do it? Here's the famous quote that she pulled from a Teddy Roosevelt speech. This is the man in the arena quote: 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So here's the question for you: are you willing to know defeat? That's a hard question, I'll be honest with you, in my career, the answer was certainly ‘no’ for a long time. 

The only thing that changed that was believing in something bigger than myself. I don't know how many people in the workforce believe that their job is contributing to something bigger than themselves, and I don't think it's a bad thing, like if you're not believing that your job is contributing to something bigger than you in that more altruistic, almost moral sense. I don't think it has to. But I think if you're not seeing the value of what you are doing for the greater good--and that could be for the revenue of your company that year, or whatever it might be--it's going to be really hard to lean into those difficult situations, because why else would we do it? 

It may be that you're doing it because you want to. Maybe you're not that ‘result-oriented’, maybe it's that you want to be in harmony with the people around you. Sure. But isn't it going to be easier for you to avoid them and not have those tough conversations, and not put yourself out there? I don't know. I think that there are different ways to think about this. 

Right before we recorded this episode, I sat this woman on my team down and I said, “in an hour I'm going to go record this episode on courage,” and I brought up the experience that we had last year, and just wanted to kind of prime her brain and get her thinking about courage. She started talking to me about how she thinks about courage, and one of the things that she mentioned to me was that courage, one, comes from experience; you realize that someone’s opinion of you is not the end of the world. But the thing that I thought was really interesting and is starting to change the way I'm even thinking about this topic, is that we have the responsibility to teach people how to treat us, or even in the workplace specifically, teach people how to work with us. And that’s only going to happen through those conversations with people. 

And so I thought that was a really great insight for me to think about what I owe my team members--even myself--in being able to have those conversations, and being able to contribute to an organization. 

Acting with courage and vulnerability:

So I want to talk about courage and really what it takes to get there to be courageous or to be acting with courage. And this is certainly going to be a tutorial from Brene's work because she basically unequivocally says that you can't get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. And this is the definition of vulnerability, “it’s the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is not winning or losing it's having the courage to show up when you can't control the outcome.” I thought this was really interesting because she shares this paradox where it's like how many of you can think of a courageous act that did not include uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure? She shares this story where she was asking a room full of soldiers that question: “have you in your life, ever witnessed a courageous act that did not include uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure?” And she said there were crickets. And then one man stepped up and said, “no ma'am, you can not have courage without vulnerability.” 

It's a tough one to swallow because I think in the workplace that word, vulnerability, that's not something you ever hear come out of anybody's mouth. But what's interesting, the point that she makes is this: “how many of you were raised to value courage; that we should live a brave life?” I think a lot of people can relate to that. I mean, I know that courage is something that I was always encouraged to espouse. And then she says, “and how many of you believe, or maybe were raised, or were in a culture where vulnerability was seen as weakness?” And I think we're all shaking our heads that, yeah, that's true. 

So the question is, how then can we expect that people are going to put themselves out there and act courageously, without vulnerability? There's just no way to do it. But I will tell you that as I've tried to do this in my own career, put ideas out there and do things unconventionally, push or challenge the status quo, whatever it is, you get your butt kicked. You get your butt kicked, and it's tough. But the thing is, I wouldn't change it because I really believe in our company's vision and what we're trying to do. And I want to see us progress, I want to see it grow. And I know that hey, maybe what I'm trying to do, even though it's different, it's kind of challenging the status quo. I think it'll be worth it. And you know and maybe it will help other people see a new opportunity for us to improve how we do things. 

So I want to read one of the examples that she gives of how vulnerability can change the culture of a company. So she shares this in her book Dare to Lead on page 175, but it's Stephan Larsen's experiences as a retail leader. So I’m going to read this experience to kind of talk about this in the context of culture:

“Stephan Larsen is a seasoned retail leader who was most recently Chief Executive Officer of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. He is credited with turning around the iconic American apparel brand, Old Navy, where he and his team delivered 12 straight quarters of growth and added 1 billion dollars in sales in three years. He also spent 14 years as a key part of the leadership team that built the Swedish based fashion giant, H&M, into one of the three most valued fashion brands in the world with global operations in 44 countries, and sales that grew from three billion dollars to 17 billion dollars. When I took the helm of Old Navy, the brand had faltered for a number of years and we had to find our way back to the original vision. 

After a few days in the archives, we uncovered the original vision statement, which was about making aspirational American style accessible to every family. Now we just had to deliver on it. The most crucial component to unlock and the biggest driver of success turned out to be transforming the organizational culture. 

What was once an entrepreneurial, fast-moving, and empowering culture, had over the course of several years of struggling performance become hierarchical, siloed, political, and filled with fear. Most team members understood our collective challenges. They saw clearly what we needed to do, and what stood in the way. 

However, very few dared to share their insights, or voice their concerns in larger settings, or take action on them because of the fear of looking bad or making someone else look bad. To turn the brand around, our main job was to build a culture of trust. To do this, we set out with a few goals that had turned out to be key drivers of our success. We started with weekly learning sessions for our top 60 leaders. Two hours every week together as one team with the premise that we would no longer judge outcomes as good or bad, we would just read the outcomes as outcomes, learn from them, and quickly improve. The goal was to “out-learn” our competitors. We would stop the shaming and blaming and the judging of outcomes as good or bad, and instead continuously ask ourselves what did we set out to do, what happened, what did we learn, and how fast can we improve on it?

We launched quarterly town halls and company-wide calls where we, in connection to our vision and the plan we had set out, shared the outcomes learnings and improvements on a regular basis. As a management team, we physically moved in together into one big room with glass walls where we intentionally unlocked the doors in the middle of our headquarters to further enable openness, trust, and teamwork by using the space to visually mirror our approach and attitude. We also encouraged all team members, regardless of their position in the organization, to come by and reach out with ideas and thoughts around anything that could improve what we were doing, or not doing. 

It didn't take long until everyone started to come up with more and more ideas on how to improve the business. At first, people were hesitant to believe that we were really serious about the no shaming and blaming, but over time they started to speak up in meetings, whether it was asking a question without knowing the answer, or sharing the outcomes from an initiative that had under-delivered--formerly talked about as failures, now reframed as learnings--we all started to show more vulnerability in front of each other. We started to trust each other more since we were all in it together. As a management team we focused on asking questions, experimenting, and driving continuous improvement until we started to get traction. Instead of thinking about outcomes as good and bad, we set up a failure-proof way of working. This allowed us to overcome setbacks and put the focus on learning instead of blaming. 

Once we removed the fear of failure and the fear of being judged, we started to out-learn and out-perform our best competitors. As a result, we delivered 12 consecutive quarters of growth in a very challenging market and added a billion dollars in sales in three years. But what I'm most proud of as a leader, was being able to empower my team to take vulnerability and to make it into a strength, to foster a culture of trust, openness, and collaboration, and to shift our mentality to one of continuous learning. Today, over two years after I moved on to lead another company, I still get emails from team members who want to share what they've learned, and how they continue to drive greatness from their learnings. Those emails make all the difference.”

I absolutely loved that when I read that from the book. It's such a great case study--as Brene describes it--of vulnerability. But what I love about that most, and that's all on a very big scale, is that when those leaders decided to change the culture and they were determining the tactics of how to do that, it didn't take right away, people didn't embrace it right away. And then it’s really easy to say, you know, it's not working. Let's shut this down and do something different. But they kept doing it, and eventually people jumped on board. So here's the lesson that we're really getting to today, and this is again quoting Brene where she says, “leadership is about choosing courage over comfort. It's choosing what's right over what's fun, fast, or easy, and it's practicing your values not just professing them.” 

Identifying your values:

As we've been talking you've been hearing this language of doing what's right, and standing up for yourself or what you think should happen. That's going to really be born from your values. I'm going to just read a definition of what values are, and then she's got this great exercise that I want to walk you through in terms of identifying your values, and I'm going to give you a couple stories in terms of how I approached it, and what seemed to clarify my values. So definition, values are a way of being or believing that we hold most important. And Brene says, living into our values means that we do more than profess our values or practice them, we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs. 

So here's what I want to do. Inside of her book, and I believe on her website as well--we'll have all this for you on our website--but in her book on page 188, if you guys have got the book, she's got a list of values. And she walks through this exercise of how to identify your values, and there's a list of probably 50 values on here of just one word descriptions if you will, and I want to just read through a few and I want to tell you what mine are. We're going to walk through some questions that she suggests to really identify your two values. 

She talks about as you're going through and really trying to identify your values you should really keep it to one or two, and here's why, she pulls this quote from Jim Collins who says, “if you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.” And I think it goes for us at work, you know, when should we really lean in and be courageous? If everything is a priority, then it's going to be exhausting for us to try and live up to all that. 

So I'm going to read a few and then we'll get into some of the questions here to really hone in and find those. She has things on here like accountability, achievements, adaptability, adventure, compassion, community, commitment, diversity, fairness, faith, family, humility, kindness, justice, optimism, openness, patience, wealth, thrift, teamwork, service, a lot of these words that identify your values. And as I was going through this list--she says to go through it and ask yourself a couple of questions--I was like ok, well, I've been studying this topic of courage and that really is resonating with me. And then I also was thinking to myself, alright, I'm a religious person, and I immediately thought, I better choose family because that's an important thing in my religion. It just seemed like I would be a jerk if I didn't choose something that was family. 

So she says ok, you've picked these values. Now ask yourself these questions: Does this define me? As I was looking at it, I'm like ok, family and courage.Yes, but then I'm thinking about the rest of the things on the list, and I'm like there's a lot of things here still that define me. Here's the question that she asked that was really helpful for me. Is this who I am at my best? So this is what I want you to do, I want you to think of those moments when you are at your best. And I want you to think about how you would describe yourself at your best. Because this is you evaluating you. Right? This is not your mom. This is not your your pastor. This is not your boss. This is not whoever that's putting that pressure on you to choose something on this list of values. You decide when you're at your best, and what does that look like and boil it down to those two words.

As I was going through that, I was like hey, courage is still there for me because I really believe that you should stand up for things that you believe in, and that takes this vulnerability like we talked about. So that was really resonating with me as I was hashing through this. But then the other thing was that I absolutely prioritize and believe in family and how important that is. But learning is something that's so core to my soul that I was just like, I feel like that is maybe my value more than family. And it felt weird to say that, but then this story came to mind about learning, and how this is really a core thing that I believe in. 

When I was young, I was not the best at school. I was very much loving friends and the social scene, but I was not great at school. I struggled. I had a choice when I was really young if I was going to be honest about how bad I was doing, or if I could get away with lying to teachers and my parents about it. And I chose the latter. I was not an honest kid when I was really young as it related to my grades. It got so bad, and I got so good at it. I got my report card and there were a couple D’s on that report card. I knew my mom and my dad, and this was not going to fly. I did not want to go through that experience. So I'm like ok, I just I have to avoid this. I go on to my computer and I basically create an exact replica of the report card. I mean like, you know the little dates that are printed in the corner when we print off documents, other codes that the school prints normally with their report cards? I was matching the font, the design, I made myself a replica of this report card. And I was like I know I shouldn't give myself all A's. I'm going to give myself good enough grades where I'm not going to get into a ton of trouble. 

So you guys probably think I'm a horrible human, but that's really what I did when I was a kid. I tried to get out of being accountable for school stuff. First of all, I took that report card to my mom she didn't blink, I got the lecture because I had a C on there, but it was not nearly as bad as if she saw that I had like a D- on there. I got away with it, but then I got caught, and to this day and I will never forget the moment where my mom says, “Jordan, can I talk to you for a minute?” I'm like “yeah…” She takes me into the office in our house, and she sits me down and she says, “Jordan I can't trust you anymore. I don't know if what you're telling me is the truth or not, and so I just need to figure out a way to communicate with you so that I can understand what I need to understand. But I hope I can trust you again.” 

And that just wracked me. The idea that my mom couldn't trust me was just the worst sinking feeling. And here's what happened, I decided from there on--I remember I was sitting in my bedroom after that conversation and deciding this is going to suck because I'm not good at school but I have to, essentially, learn from this, and I've got to change. As I'm going through this exercise of identifying my values and reflecting on these different stories, the question of who am I at my best, well I was looking at my worst, but at my best, I want to be that guy that can get hard feedback--whether it's from a team member or my mom--and will learn from it and change. And that to me is more important, and not that it's like I don't love my family, but I feel like I can have those conversations with my wife where I can learn to become a better parent, or I'm going to be a better co-worker, like whatever it is, the value of learning starts to really resonate as I'm talking through this. And again, courage is just something that I really was resonating with as well. 

So Brene also has in there taking values from B.S. to behavior, and she has three questions--which is kind of what I just went through, but let me just read these for you. What are three behaviors that support your value? What are three behaviors that are outside your value? So when I was talking about when I lied to my mom, that would be outside of my values because that is not courage; lying to your parents is not being vulnerable with them. But then Brene’s last question is, What's an example of a time when you were fully living into this value? 

Today’s next best action:

I would just challenge you to go through this exercise because whether it's formally going through and naming all those behaviors in those experiences, or not, as you start to process when you're at your best, or at your worst, you're the one that's deciding what that is. And that's how you're going to understand what your values are. Once you know those values, that's when you can get clear on when you need to be courageous, and what you need to be courageous about. As Brene talks about, leadership specifically is a courageous act and it's about choosing courage over comfort, choosing what's right over what's fun. And you're not going to know what's right and fun unless you know your values; you're not going to choose the harder thing over what's fun fast and easy, if you really don't know what your values are, and leadership is practicing those values; not just professing them. So it's tough experience, but I think it was a clarifying experience for me to go through that.

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

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