Authentic Leadership

Dare to Lead by Dr. Brené Brown

There are a lot of books about leadership on the market. I use many of them in the workshops I lead for Dioceses, including the work I mentioned a few weeks ago about the Change Style Indicator. I was cleaning off my desk last week and saw this book again. I’ve loved Dr. Brené Brown’s work for years including her books, TED talks, Netflix special, and her general take on shame, vulnerability, and courage. I want less of the first and a ton more of the last two, don’t you?

I decided to pick up this book again with a pen and share a few insights about leadership. It’s possible good leadership could fix a lot of issues we have within the Church. So while she’s not writing about leadership in the Church specifically, I believe her work is applicable because she’s writing about human behavior. Every leader in the Church is a human being, and we were created to live courageous lives. It’s only with vulnerability and courage that we will be strong leaders in the faith and bring others to the faith. When we are living the truth about ourselves, we’re able to share the Truth with people in a way that helps them listen with an open heart.

Over the course of the past few weeks I’ve seen many great examples of conversation and many poor examples. I think it comes down to understanding a little more about how we work and being intentional about how our actions and words affect others. I encourage you to read her work, particularly this book as it’s a summary of most of everything she’s already written. Like all books in the ‘self-help shelf’ of the bookstore, there are plenty of great takeaways and plenty of “hmm, I see things differently.” So I’m going to pull a few key takeaways and share some thoughts over the next two weeks.

She begins by defining leader: “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” (pg 4)

In this definition anyone who is a parent, manages people at work, mentors peers or other individuals, teaches, leads a community group, or more is considered a leader. She writes about how we need brave and courageous leaders. These qualities are sometimes considered ‘innate’ and therefore you “either have them or you don’t” – but she rejects that notion. We can learn to be more courageous, to be braver, and to be a leader that sees the potential in others and helps them to develop it. A few of the things that get in our way are:

  1. We avoid tough conversations; living in a culture of ‘nice and polite’ instead of kind, truthful, and charitable.
  2. We focus on and define ourselves, others and our organization by setbacks, failures, and disappointments.
  3. We value perfectionism and use it to mask our fear. (pg 7-9)

So many times we are scared of getting it wrong, so we fall back into silence. I’ve also experienced a “fear of offending” driving silence in leaders, particularly on hard issues and those seen as being controversial. The ‘secret sauce’ of good leadership is not avoiding those conversations until the issue goes away – instead it’s diving into the hard conversation with truth, kindness, and charity to see what’s happening beneath.

When we are brave and courageous we see people for who they are truly are and connect with them on a deeper level. It’s is connection that fuels empathy, bravery, and courage. Many people who leave the Church cite reasons such as, “I just didn’t feel like I belonged there” or “I wasn’t able to be myself.” When I hear this, I’m sad because I think we’ve missed the mark and the purpose of our parishes.

We say we want to engage in community building. In order to do this, we need to really connect with people. This means we see them for who they are. We see them as daughters and sons of the Father, created for more, created for love and connection to each other and to the Lord. When we can dive into hard topics like race, gender, sexuality, immigration, worthiness, and shame with those who come to our parish, we can help them create a stronger connect with the community and with the Lord. This is a way they encounter the life-saving Love of God.

One of the ways we do this is by practicing empathy … coming up later this week.

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