Today, I was belittled on the phone. A man, whom I’ll call Ted, had a problem with his daughter going on the mission trip my office is organizing. More specifically, he had a problem with the money his daughter is raising to go on the mission trip my office is organizing. Ted felt that it was appropriate to shout at me, talk over me, and then question my commitment to Christianity. Ted said, in almost exact terms, that, “I’d better remember who I was working for, because if I say I am working for the work of the Lord, the Lord wouldn’t be too happy with me…or my work”. This was not the first time I’d conversed with Ted, but the third. Over the course of this semester, Ted has repeatedly told me that he is not happy that I’ve forced his daughter to go on a mission trip to her native country, despite telling him each time that his daughter actually volunteered for this work. Ted has also questioned where my own personal paycheck comes from multiple times, because he just can’t seem to believe that his daughter is raising all that money to go somewhere, and that she is in fact, my own personal funding source. But today….today, Ted had the gall to question my commitment to Christ. And little did Ted know that this week, I had been reading Brené Browns, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
Brené Brown has been mentoring me from afar for about 5 years. I was first introduced to her work through her book Daring Greatly, which I devoured, often reading large chunks to my husband in whispered tones after our first baby was asleep. I’ve used her TED talk (hence, Ted’s name) in multiple trainings in my office as well as at my church. A few years ago, after a particularly challenging year at work, I signed up for her online course on Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Brené’s research style has also influenced much of my own for this doctoral program. I find myself weaving through stories and trying to gather data as my own style of “researcher storyteller”. Needless to say, I am all about Brené.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington – Brené Brown Endowed Chair. She specifically studies shame, courage, vulnerability, and empathy and has written multiple books including five New York Times bestsellers. Brené’s most recent work is the culmination of a seven-year study on leadership and it is most evident.
When Ted called me this morning, he had no idea that this week, I have been bathing in the work of Brené. He had no idea that I’d been pondering things like “Courage and Fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the exact same time.” I’ve also been working through how to set boundaries and determine for myself, in the midst of chaos at work, what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why. I’ve been sitting in many tough conversations, tough meetings, and had to make many tough decisions, and Brené has reminded me that my job as the leader is to remember the “grounded confidence to stay tethered to values, respond rather that react emotionally, and operate from self-awareness, not self-protection.”
Today, I channeled Brené in my conversation with Ted. I respectfully stood my ground and told him, responded with authority and grounded confidence, that I needed a break from our conversation because it was not going anywhere, and I refused to be spoken to in his tone and with his words. I called him on his behavior and his accusations and told him that if he wanted to speak with me again, it would not be over the phone and that our office would refuse to engage him in conversation until he chose to approach me in a more respectful manner. I very clearly set a definition of what was not okay in our interactions. The whole time, I rumbled with vulnerability when I wanted to armor up.
When I got off the phone, my hands were shaking, and I could hardly see I was so angry. But I looked around the room at the undergraduate and graduate students who had overheard the conversation. Their eyes were full of both bewilderment and pride. I knew that by rumbling with grounded confidence, I’d shown them what vulnerability, and in turn, leadership looked like. So despite a very demoralizing day, it was all worth it because I’m strong and I have practiced what it takes to create and hold space in this work.
 “About”, Brené Brown. Accessed April 11, 2019. https://brenebrown.com/about/
 Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (New York, NY: Random House Publishing, 2018), 10.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 169.
 Ibid. 171.