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The Importance of Courage in the Workplace: Inspired by "Dare to Lead"

Lexy Murphy is a Producer/Production Manager who recently stepped into her management role at August Jackson. On a journey to discover what kind of leader she wants to be and the best ways contribute to a courageous culture in the workplace, she recently attended a workshop at Northwestern University based on the book “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown. Over the course of two days, Lexy and other professional leaders worked through the key lessons appearing in Brown’s bestseller and did a variety of exercises based on these themes. We sat down with Lexy to find out more about her experience “rumbling with vulnerability” and about courage in the workplace.


First off, why did you want to attend this specific workshop?

Lexy: In this industry, a lot of people know Brené Brown. She’s a great speaker on leadership and she’s got some great TED Talks. This workshop was about diving into that and hearing some more personal stories from her.

Tell us about the workshop – what was the experience like?

Lexy: There was a licensed facilitator certified under Brené Brown to guide the workshop. There were videos of Brené, and she would tell a story about something in a section of the book, like “rumbling with vulnerability,” and set-up what we were going to do after the video ended as a group.

We had to take a moment to give ourselves permission to be vulnerable and talk in a space of safety and trust with each other. After the set-up from Brené, we really dove into exercises, about anything from courage and vulnerability to shame and empathy. We talked about how all of that shows up in the workplace. There were so many diverse backgrounds and experiences, but we shared a lot of the same group dynamics. It doesn’t matter where you work, when organizations don’t lean into vulnerability or develop courage in their culture, it shows up.

Why is “Dare to Lead” an important book for professionals to read?

Lexy: Part of Brené Brown’s research is that, across the board, we need more courageous leaders. She’d ask [leaders], “What does courage look like in the workplace?” It was actually hard for them to explain, so she rephrased it. “What does it look like when you don’t have courage in the workplace?” Everyone had answers for that.

I think the biggest takeaway from the book is that courage is a skill. It’s measurable and teachable. As an organization, if you invest in developing courage, then you’re going to have more accountability and less shame. You’re going to have more trust and open and honest conversations.


How does vulnerability factor into this?

Lexy: The first half of the book is about what she calls “rumbling with vulnerability.” Before you even get to the other skills, the whole first day was about vulnerability.

We talked about the myths around vulnerability. Sometimes people see it as weakness, they say things like, “I don’t do vulnerability. I don’t need to open up about everything in my life.” There are misconceptions around what it means to actually be vulnerable. You can’t have courage without vulnerability, so that’s the first step.

One of my favorite Brené Brown quotes is “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I’ll read what she says about this:

“Sometimes speaking the truth feels like we’re being unkind, especially when sharing difficult information or feedback. But in reality, dancing around the truth is unkind. When we avoid stating the truth, when we are vague and ambiguous under the guise of being kind, it’s often because we’re trying to lessen the discomfort for ourselves, not for the other person."

How can leadership put this into practice?

Lexy: [By moving] from what she calls armored leadership to daring leadership.

She talks about what armored leadership can look like in organizations. It can be that person in the room that’s like, “I know all the answers.” Hiding behind cynicism, also, and calling it out in other people rather than looking at it in ourselves.

Daring leadership means knowing how you bring value and where your time is best spent. It’s focusing on the things you’re good at that really drive value and not the other stuff.

As leaders, our goal within the organization is to develop the potential of our employees. You can’t do that if you can’t have difficult conversations or if you’re focusing on trying to fix the wrong behaviors rather than improving the right behaviors. A lot of it is a mindset shift in how management functions, and that trickles into your teams. The more we demonstrate vulnerability, the more our team members can too.

What are some tips or takeaways you can share with us?

Lexy: As leaders, you have to be aware of the bandwagon effect. It’s when you’re in a group meeting, and you’re trying to encourage dialogue, and everyone is just like, “Yeah, yeah, what this person said.” It’s not productive, and you’re not getting to the core of what you’re trying to accomplish.

“Turn and learn” [is] a meeting tool that allows everyone to share their input simultaneously. If you’re trying to gain consensus on something, everyone has a sticky note and writes on it—let’s say it’s, “What would you rate the success of this product?” Everyone writes it, and on the count of three, shows their number. You’ve got to own why you said it. As a leader, you’re doing it too and it’s a good way to see where everyone’s head is at. If you’re all over the place, then maybe you have to work backwards and figure out what the next action is.

One of my other favorite takeaways was staying in problem-solving mode. When we jump to conclusions quickly, we’re not actually addressing the real problem, which turns into a lack of productivity. There are underlying issues happening all the time and if we aren’t in touch with the real problem, we’re going to keep putting Band-Aids over things that need an overhaul.

Overall, what inspired you the most about the workshop?

Lexy: Personally, I didn’t realize how much I shied away from vulnerability and my own myths about it. It’s difficult, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we make it. We’re dealing with, for instance, shame, which is a sensitive subject. It’s not something that we talk about a lot in the workplace. Shaming is saying something like, “I’m so bad at this” versus “I did something bad and I can fix it.”

Working from shame doesn’t lead to any sort of improvement. If you say, “I did something bad,” or, “I’m not the only one who has felt like this before,” you start moving into productive action around an actual behavior rather than a personality trait. I think we have to give ourselves a little bit of grace, as long as we’re trying to move the needle and create a more courageous culture.

For organizations, you have to stand for something, and your behaviors have to support it. You can’t just say your values, you have to call out specific behaviors you want to see. Leadership has to demonstrate them, then you’re starting to build a culture where everyone knows what’s expected of them and everyone can be accountable to it.

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Thank you to Lexy for sharing her voice – and for having the courage to share her learnings and insights with everyone (at August Jackson and beyond). We stand beside our people as they transform into leaders of today and, thanks to moments like this, will continue to do so in support of an open, inclusive and courageous culture.

At August Jackson, we believe that developing powerful brand engagement begins with mutual understanding and strong partnerships. We value the relationships we have with our clients and, together, aim to develop activations and communities built from the same foundation. 

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