Vulnerability, connection and courage – a workshop with Brene Brown.

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Last Thursday I joined with a group of fellow Leading Ladies and Sistas for a road trip down to Sydney to attend a workshop with researcher and thought leader on shame and vulnerability Dr Brene Brown.

Pictured above are: Tina Moore, Christina Gerakiteys, Dr Tracy Brown, Melissa Histon, Heidi Alexandra Pollard, Amanda Gascoigne and Belinda Bow

Before heading down we all brushed up and watched Brene’s famous Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability which has been viewed around the world almost 24 million times.

The author and research professor has spent the last 12 years figuring out what keeps us from living the fully involved existences that we’re trying to lead.

In that Ted Talk she shares:

“So where I started was with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is — neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here.”

Connection. Already our little Novocastrian posse was on a winner, travelling in numbers, sharing our lessons and friendship and feeling part of a community – how wonderful!

The event, run by Business Chicks, was a sell-out – a room packed with over 500 women (and a few good men) and Brene was ready poised on stage ready to impart her wisdom. She did not disappoint.

Over 90 minutes and eleven pages of notes later I found myself feeling satiated, grounded and well, kind of affirmed that being a real and authentic leader, though undoubtedly challenging, is a good thing. My biggest takeaway of all on the day was to be always looking at how you can come from a place of love and not fear as fear is contractive and love, expansive.

Here are some of the leadership lessons Brene shared on connection, courage, calm and living a whole-hearted life.

  • Personal development trumps professional development

To become a great leader, you must first work on yourself. Brene shared her belief that the influence of a leader is not limited by their professional development; rather by their personal development. She drove home that all leadership begins on the inside and extends outward. 

In a discussion with my international mastermind circle this week I shared how I have to keep pushing myself to be vulnerable and to peel away my armory that I have had since childhood so I can begin living a more ‘wholehearted life’.

As Brene so articulately put it “Don’t let your personal sh%$ get in the way of your work as a leader. Get outside help, work it out.”

  • Small things matter when it comes to trust

Brene encouraged us to all do something, however small, to show our teams and friends we care about them. She shared examples of how working with employees and friends is like having an imaginary marble jar: when people do good things they put marbles in their jar, when they do small things to break our trust or make us doubt them, they take marbles out.

Building trust therefore is not a grand gesture, it’s the series of small moments and things that build the strongest trust. Like the leader who attends an employees family funeral, or stops to ask how their 9 year old went in their zone swimming carnival, or asking someone for help. You cannot cheat time on trust building.

  • Lean into difficult emotions and conversations

Brave Leaders stay in spirit with the people they work with. She talked about that if you want people to have difficult conversations that you have to model it, demonstrate it and live it so they can see it in action.

Brene’s definition of a true leader was that they:
– have absolute complete awareness of their emotions 100 per cent of the time
– have a deep understanding of other people’s emotions and are happy to go there
– are able to “do discomfort”. In her words, “Real leaders choose what is courageous over what is comfortable.”

Show up fully. Take off your ‘armor’ and lower your “I’ve-got-it-all-together” mask and dare to share what’s been on your mind with someone you trust.

At the end of the information rich workshop Brene took some questions from the floor, I was fortunate enough to get to ask her a questions so I asked her about where you begin if you are a consultant or working for a leader or CEO who lacks emotional intelligence and who is unknowingly leaving a trail of destruction and creating a toxic culture.

Her answer was of course to have a courageous conversation. To look the leader in the eye and ask them tough questions. Say to them that right now everyone is watching them and the way they handle themselves is being watched and how courageously they open themselves up to the personal development and learning of becoming more body intelligent and emotionally aware is mission critical.

How well they are courageous and step up counts and courage is contagious. Also challenge them to look at the system they are operating in. If the system is broken then it doesn’t matter how great a leader they are.

As Brene said so eloquently, “The nature of leadership is discomfort. That’s why there are so few great leaders.”

With love,

Heidi Alexandra Pollard xx


Heidi Alexandra Pollard

As a workplace futurist and company culture hacker, Heidi Alexandra and her team are the secret super power for Australia’s most innovative cultures and brands. Heidi Alexandra created a simple model, called The UQ Powerhouse, that codifies what makes healthy, happy and productive workplaces for the future. She believes it is possible for businesses to balance people, planet and purpose with profit and that together we can end workplace bullying, depression, anxiety and suffering. Find out more at

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