If daring is the key to great leadership, and vulnerability is the key to being daring, then how can we combine the research on vulnerability with existing world-class tools to measure our journey towards becoming a great leader?

The picture below shows the before and after of one of my clients. It shows a shift from “armoured leadership” toward “daring leadership” (there is more on that later). This client discovered their vulnerability in a way that was safe for them and which allowed them to make significant changes in a relatively short period of time. 

If you’d like to understand more about how to measure and use vulnerability to become a great leader, keep reading and I’ll walk you through it.

At the end, there is a testimonial from another client who describes the inspiring impact it had on her in real life and how she got her “mojo” back as a leader.

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Daring to Lead

Dr Brené Brown’s ground-breaking leadership book Dare to Lead (2018) was driven by one question –

“What, if anything, about the way people are leading today, needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?”

Brené Brown

Before that was her famous TED talk on The power of vulnerability (2010). If you are not one of the almost 60 million people who have watched this talk here is the link:

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Dr Brown’s research shows that many workplaces and team cultures are defined by scarcity, fear, and uncertainty. Leaders learn to succeed in these environments using different tactics to control and drive results. Dr Brown says leaders who work from a place of control feel disappointed and resentful, and their teams feel scrutinized. We know that this style of leadership also kills trust.

One of Dr Brown’s assumptions in undertaking the research for Dare to Lead was that one of the main barriers to daring leadership, the willingness to be vulnerable, was fear. Through the course of the research she found it was not fear, but the way we defend ourselves, or our “armour”. The armour is defined as 16 specific examples of armoured leadership, each with a daring leadership alternative:

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Dr Brown defines vulnerability as:

“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage. When the barrier is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?’ When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”

Vulnerability is related to security. 

Keep that in mind as you read on.

Human thinking and behaviour is very complex and a picture can paint a thousand words. Dr. Robert A. Cooke and Dr. J. Clayton Laferty of Human Synergistics International understood this and created a model that effectively paints a picture of our thinking and behaviour styles. They call it a Circumplex.

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Notice that, at the bottom of the circumplex model is the word “security” and at the top is “satisfaction”. I mapped armoured leadership and daring leadership against the behaviour styles and here is what I discovered:

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Measuring armoured leadership and vulnerability

Bringing these two models together we can clearly see the armoured leadership examples map directly to aggressive/defensive (like holding a sword) or passive/defensive (like holding a shield) thinking and behaviour. Usefully, the model also helps us to clearly see the constructive thinking and behaviour styles we use when we lean into vulnerability and we put down our swords and our shields. In this way, the circumplex can be used as a useful measure in relation to leadership development and daring leadership.

The swords and the shields of armoured leadership

Four of the styles in the circumplex relate to deriving “Security” with a focus on “Tasks”. When we are security-oriented and we are task-focused we use strategies that relate to these four styles: Perfectionistic, Competitive, Power and Oppositional. These are called aggressive/defensive styles and act like the sword in your armour.

Four of the styles in the circumplex relate to deriving “Security” with a focus on “People”. When we are security-focused and we are people-oriented we develop strategies that relate to these four styles: Approval, Conventional, Dependent and Avoidance. These are called passive/defensive and act like a shield in your armour.

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The remaining four of the styles in the circumplex are constructive styles and relate to more satisfaction. As you increase the blue constructive styles it creates an environment where team members develop healthy relationships, work together with proficiency, accomplishing tasks and solving problems. Leaders that use more constructive styles create environments where teams can innovate and solve complex problems. The psychological safety in these environments allows people to take risks and creates more courageous cultures.

The constructive styles of thinking and behaviour are highly effective. Human Synergistics International has a considerable body of data that supports the proposition that higher levels of constructive behaviours result in more effective leadership.

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As you can see, the circumplex is a useful tool to help measure progress when you are learning to put down your armour and lean into vulnerability.

But, a tool is just a measuring device. As Dr Brown alluded to earlier, it is important to create a ‘space’ to explore our need for security and find the courage to let it go.

How to create that space is a topic for another article but I can say that any courageous journey is faster and safer with an experienced guide.

Any courageous journey is faster and safer with an experienced guide

At the beginning of this article, I said I would share the inspiring impact my approach had on one of my clients in real life. Here it is:

“Thank goodness I had the good fortune of meeting Karl when I did! When I first met Karl I felt I was an ineffective leader, I felt I lacked influence, I couldn’t articulate myself as well as I used to be able – I was failing and I was struggling to get on top of things. Karl ‘coached’ (and challenged) me to identify and confront the way I think, which impacted on the way I behaved.

Through a series of coaching sessions my self-awareness started to grow – the whys became clearer and in a staged-approach, what I needed to do resulted in positive thinking and behaving. My ‘mojo’ is back! I have clarity, better balance, self-satisfaction, more decisive, I’m happy and I’m an effective leader again.

We all need coaches or mentors in our lives to shine light on what we sometimes don’t see. Thank you Karl for your guidance and friendship, you are a fantastic being.”