DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Like Silk Sheets

Written by: on April 11, 2019

I can understand why Brené Brown is so popular. The women in my life have been harassing me for some time that I need to watch Brown speaking on vulnerability through her TED Talk.[1] That led me to scan through Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.[2] So, I get why people like her. She speaks with a transparent authority and reading her work is like gliding on silk sheets. She has academic creds, but comes across with a sagely scholasticism that knows what she knows and bows to what she doesn’t; and she’s nice about it too.

That being the case, it’s a bit hard to critically review Dare to Lead because Brené Brown sort of drags you into her parlour without realising it. Rather than brutally reading for details and information, I found myself reading every word and every every anecdote. So that’s my main critique; Dare to Lead is not boring enough to be taken seriously.

What resonated for me is the notion that in the 21st century, we need a new type of leaders. Simon Sinek’s popular offering, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, covers similar material of developing trust and safety by understanding what motivates people by showing that the team matters more than the leader. Officers in the armed forces eat after their troops – so must all leaders.[3] However Brown unpacks the idea of putting others ahead of yourself (which is a courageous act when done altruistically)  by attending to vulnerability as the necessary requirement of courage; for most people insecurity and risk are not natural partners for success, but according the Brown they are the main ingredients. Interviewing American soldiers in 2014, she found that vulnerability was not only to be found only in the face of a starving child, but also in the courage of frontline soldier “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing,” writes Brown, “it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”[4] The difference between the two, is that the latter choose to face vulnerability and allow it to fuel courage. Those who launch out into ventures in which there are no safety nets are the most vulnerable people you will meet, but at the same time those people are the ones who create, innovate and shape the world.

The last paragraph caught me as I wrote it. I took note of Brown quoting C S Lewis.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.[5]

A few pages earlier Brown wrote,

If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their lives but who will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgment at those who dare greatly.[6]

It’s all too easy to critique and complain. And, I am conscious that fall in to that trap if I am not reflective about my own state. That led me to reflect on perhaps the most confronting part of the book – the need for feedback: the willingness to offer it and receive it. Being less than honest with the people around you means they will be less than honest with you. But honesty with vulnerability is not the same as well articulated opinions. The first drives toward growth from care, while the latter is designed to assert power from position. And I wonder if for us leaders in New Zealand that isn’t one of our greatest failings.

Despite finding the BRAVING inventory interesting (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgemental and Generosity) the concepts of vulnerability and Feedback were most obvious in my reading, with Living into our values a close third. The ten “I know when I’m ready to give feedback” moments were helpful reflections on honest accountability to truth in working relationships, if not all relationships.[7]

Lastly, I remember Andrea mentioning ‘curiosity’ from her review of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, and the following statement summed up something of the essence of Brave Work, Tough Conversations, and Whole Hearts.

“Curiosity says: No worries. I love a wild ride. I’m up for wherever this goes. And I’m in for however long it takes to get to the heart of the problem. I don’t have to know the answers or say the right thing, I just have to keep listening and keep questioning.”[8]

Notes

[1] Brené Brown, “Vulnerability,” TED Talks, 2010, Accessed April 2019, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.

[2] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Kindle ed. (London: Penguin, 2013-01-17).

[3] Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Kindle ed. (Penguin, 2014). 68

[4] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., Kindle ed. (London: Vermillion, 2018). loc 157 and 352

[5] Ibid. loc 380

[6] Ibid. loc 361

[7] Ibid. loc 2767-2811

[8] Ibid. loc 2450

Bibliography

Brown, Brené. “Vulnerability.” Last modified 2010, Accessed April 2019, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.

———. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Kindle ed. London: Penguin, 2013.

———. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Kindle ed. London: Vermillion, 2018.

Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Kindle ed. Penguin, 2014.

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

8 responses to “Like Silk Sheets”

  1. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Digby, good vulnerability practice. How would New Zealander’s in general view Brown’s teachings about vulnerability and shame? Does the NZ culture tend to be open, private, an honor and shame culture or how would you describe it? And, is there a gender difference in that perspective?

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Good questions. I’d say NZ is pretty private and has a long shame history. It still reads it’s head every now and then. NZers can be pretty hard on people without knowing much other than what they read in the media. Leadership tends toward pragmatics rather than values, despite often using the new language. There are many women in NZ as a proportion and I think they are now finding their own voice women rather they opersting in a male way to find acceptance. So things are beginning to change along Browns methodology.

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Digby,
    Yes, I have somewhat held off getting on the Brene Brown bus because she is so wildly popular. However, I must say she has an amazing ability to combine experience, scholarship, research, and Texas sassiness in communicating to her audience (I have only read this book). As usual, you have picked up and reminded us of another nugget, the difference between honest, vulnerable feedback and well articulated opinions. You say that NZ leaders may be failing in pursuing the latter. In reflecting upon this, I wonder if in the West we confuse honest, vulnerable feedback with “using our voice to speak up” without much reflection or articulation. Thanks for challenging us to reflect upon honest, vulnerable feedback.

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Of course you like her. She’s one of your lot after all. I appreciate you drawing out one of her conditions about who gets to offer feedback, or at least whose feedback we ought to take seriously. While any member of our team has earned a say, it isn’t just anyone out there who has an oppinion on our work. I appreciate the invitation to sift my mentors and critics based on whether they have actually been in the ring, taking a risk, getting beat up in the process. I acknoweledge I am much more open to hearing from people who have shared my experiences than those who share my perspective. I wonder if when we are in a position where feedback is necessary, we might need to find a way instead to create space for self reflection where we ask questions rather than offer observations? How do we bridge the difference between hierarchical systems built on unidirectional feedback and the system Brown illustrates when we don’t have the authority to change it? Put another way, what strategies would you recommend for ushering in this new way?

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      This doesn’t answer your question directly, but we start our meetings with a reflective response to our minsotry. It follows a 3DM model. The questions are: 1. What’s on top for you at the moment in your life and ministry. 2. What is God saying to you about it. 3. What are you doing about it. In part it’s a way of hearing where people are at, keeping God in the equation and providing reflective accountability. The vulnerability develops over time and we share the stories and accountability. It glows into work place productivity too.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Digby – love reading your feedback on Brown. Favorite lines: ‘not boring enough to take seriously’; courage about showing up when you can’t predict or control; and difference between honesty and opinions. I like reading her every once in awhile because I face the temptation to care too much what people think and then to shrink. She provides encouragement for me to stay ‘in the arena’. Grateful for you.

  5. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    I appreciate your reflection, Digby. This was my first encounter with Brene Brown as well. It was a great read, but I do think it will take me a while to unpack what the practice of her ideas looks like for me. You mentioned a distinction of NZ leaders…I wonder how the practice of giving and receiving feedback will look differently for you than me. Is there a particular behavior you will change or implement after this read?

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Hi Rhonda. Allow me to respond the same way I did with Jenn.
      This doesn’t answer your question directly, but we start our meetings with a reflective response to our minsotry. It follows a 3DM model. The questions are: 1. What’s on top for you at the moment in your life and ministry. 2. What is God saying to you about it. 3. What are you doing about it. In part it’s a way of hearing where people are at, keeping God in the equation and providing reflective accountability. The vulnerability develops over time as we share the stories and accountability. It grows into work place productivity too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *