Moving from Armored to Daring Leadership

We know our world is changing rapidly. So it’s probably not surprising that over 10 years of research on leadership by Dr. Brené Brown has found that success in this disruptive world (often referred to as VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) demands that we have braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

The problem is that our brains are hard-wired to seek out familiarity and comfort. When we are faced with vulnerability (i.e., the experience and emotions that arise when we’re faced with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure), our instinct is to go into self-protection mode and “armor up” – trying to hide our inadequacies and avoid looking bad or making ourselves vulnerable to judgment and criticism. Unfortunately, the VUCA-extreme environment of 2020 is triggering us to armor up even more, leading to more disconnection and judgment. And in the absence of courage, we avoid feedback and difficult conversations, get stuck in setbacks, become hijacked by perfectionism, can’t innovate and grow, and exacerbate issues with diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging; these are hardly ingredients for a collaborative, engaged, psychologically safe work environment.

Showing up as braver leaders and building courageous work team cultures requires that we embrace the discomfort, lean into vulnerability and step into the arena.

We all use armor to protect ourselves; however, it is heavy and prevents us from growing, being seen, and being in connection with others. Armor usually stems from fear or another emotion that is driving self-protection (e.g., shame, anxiety, vulnerability, not feeing “enough”). In order to move from armored to daring leadership, we must be willing to step into the arena. However, we don’t go into the arena naked. Daring leaders always take two things with them:

  1. Core Values
  2. Replacing Armor with Grounded Confidence

Grounding Yourself in Your Core Values

Most of us only have two core values. Our values define us, are who we are at our best, and a filter we use to make hard decisions. You can use the list of values from Dare to Lead to help you start your own journey to clarify your own core values. Once you identify your values, the key is to move from simply professing our values to practicing them by operationalizing each value into key behavioral anchors. Use the following questions to help make it easier to practice your values:

  • What 2-3 behaviors show you are operating in alignment with each of your values?
  • What 2-3 behaviors show you are operating out of alignment with each of your values?
  • What’s an example of a time when your behaviors were fully aligned with each of your values?
  • What does it feel like when you’re living into your values?
  • What are the early warning indicators or signs that you’re living outside your values?
  • What can you do as an act of self-compassion to support yourself in the hard work of living into your values?

It takes courage and integrity to live into our values – to choose courage over comfort and what’s right over what’s fun, fast and easy. Once you’ve clarified and operationalized your values, you have guideposts to ground you as you enter into the arena and replace your armor with grounded confidence. I cannot say enough how important and powerful this exercise is to do. I’ve done this twice and found that the value words shifted, but the behaviors did not. I created a summary that I literally have these posted by my computer and carry a copy with me to set my intention and ground myself before the multiple arena moments that show up each day.

Leveraging Grounded Confidence

Grounded confidence is a way of showing up with an open heart and mind so we can serve the work and each other, not our egos.

Grounded Confidence = Rumble Skills + Curiosity + Practice

Brené Brown defines a Rumble as: a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard. Rumble skills are ways we can own the stories we make up, lean into the discomfort of checking out our assumptions, and be intentional to consider a broader context and support alignment on expectations and deliverables. Like anything, with practice we can become better at rumbling and turning towards curiosity – committing to getting it right more than being right.

We can use rumble tools and rumble starters to help build grounded confidence. Rumble tools are actions and inquiry that help us look more closely at problems to find clarity about what is important in situations and what the best next steps are. For example, we can look at what our part is in any given situation, look for key learnings we can take from challenges and missteps, and be intentional to ensure we’re on the same page on what “done” looks like for projects and deliverables.

Here are some sample rumble starters we can use to check out our assumptions, be curious and learn about other people and situations, and create a mutual opening for a productive path forward:

  • The story I’m making up/telling myself is…
  • I’m curious about…
  • Can you tell me more about your thinking here?
  • I’m wondering…
  • Walk me through how you got to…
  • Tell my why this doesn’t fit / work for you.
  • I’m working from these assumptions – what about you?
  • What’s the problem we’re trying to solve here?

We need to pay attention and recognize when we are making assumptions and stuck in blame and needing to be “right” – this is when we self-protect with armor; it’s HUMAN to self-protect – especially during these challenging times. The opportunity before us is to lean into the discomfort so we can move from Armored Leadership (i.e., leading from self-protection) to Daring Leadership (i.e., leading with grounded confidence).

Applying These Principles in Your Life:

The world demands that EVERYONE shows up as daring leaders. The arena can feel scary. However, I know for myself that grounding myself in my values and then continuing to build the skills to replace my armor with grounded confidence has been an absolute game-changer.

Try using some of these tools to help you lean into challenging situations and interactions and build the skills of daring leadership; and then call those around you to greatness by inviting them to do the same and move from judgment to curiosity.

Here are some ideas for putting this into practice in your own life (and supporting your teams, family, and communities to do the same):

  • Clarify your Core Values and behavioral guideposts. This helps you be intentional and anchor yourself in what you need to show up as your best, fully authentic self and can provide some calm in the midst of these VUCA storms for how to keep moving forward.
  • Make a practice to ask yourself: What story am I making up here? We have to realize that our brains create stories to help us make meaning from our experiences. And our first draft is usually full of armor, judgment, and many times a bunch of nonsense. When we own our stories (rather than being subject to them), we get to be in the driver’s seat.
  • Practice compassion – for yourself and others. These are incredibly challenging times right now. We have to extend some extra grace and move towards connection.
  • Strive for Realness and Authenticity over polish and perfection. We look for and appreciate when people are being genuine; yet it can feel scary for ourselves to risk revealing our imperfections and inadequacies. Take a deep breath, and practice stepping into the arena without your armor; you’ll be glad you did!

I’d love to hear other ways you’re showing up as a daring leader in your life that’s helpful!

Stay brave. Stay human. Stay safe. And never dull your sparkle!


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