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Bringing vulnerability into the workplace

By on February 9, 2018

At the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)’s Annual Conference this year, we were lucky enough to see Brene Brown’s keynote address. The room buzzed with an enthusiastic energy before she even walked out on stage. Her talk, “The 4 Pillars of Courage” was down-to-earth, funny, and relatable as she taught us about what it takes to be a courageous leader. We always admire the workplaces that foster vulnerability and bravery and the rewards we receive from them: joy, creativity, and innovation, but nobody wants to have the difficult conversations required to transform their current workplace into one of them. In her talk, Brown laid out the four elements required to achieve more joy, creativity, and innovation in your workplace. This is what we learned.


The 4 Pillars of Courage:

1. Vulnerability

“By shying away from vulnerability, we are squandering joy.” A vulnerable leader is willing to choose between courage and comfort. In a meeting, why are we always shying away from asking difficult questions and sharing our challenges? To experience positive changes in the workplace, we must be vulnerable enough to ask for them.

2. Clarity of Values

To be really vulnerable, we need to be clear on our values and be able to demonstrate them within our organization. Leaders must translate their values in a way that makes them measurable and observable. As individuals, we must have the courage to make the tough decisions that allow us to live up to our values.

3. Trust

The word trust gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? Brown uses the acronym BRAVING to dive deeper into the seven values that define trust. These include respecting boundaries, taking accountability for your mistakes (don’t we all hate doing that?), and being reliable. Take a look at the Brown’s graphic below which identifies the seven ways we can become more trustworthy in order to improve our workplace culture.


4. Rising Skills

“You need the ability to get back up when you fail and experience heartbreak.” Strong rising skills allow you to nurture your team to recover from failure—and do the same for yourself. Courageous leaders fail fast and fail often and know how to pick themselves up and move forward. Brown encouraged us to recognise the stories we tell ourselves and make up in our heads. By identifying that these stories hold us back, we can be more courageous leaders going forward.

Brene Brown’s mission is to make the workplace a braver place, which means having a lot of difficult conversations that we don’t want to have. But by understanding the four pillars of courage and implementing them in our personal and professional lives, we can open the door to a more vulnerable and, ultimately, more successful workplace.

By Kyla Clarke and Beth Eden

kyla clarkeKyla Clarke is a writer, social media strategist, and marketing professional with a background in music, media, and education. With a degree in Linguistics from Carleton University and a diploma in Professional Writing from Algonquin College, she loves creating impactful messaging through storytelling, live events, and digital experiences. She lives in Toronto.


Beth Eden is a social entrepreneur and sustainability enthusiast who grew up in the U.K. From a young age, she has been passionate about social change and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, presenting in the United Nations, taking part in global initiatives and competitions and winning entrepreneurship awards. Currently, she is finding new ways to engage and empower an audience to act on world issues and is taking part in a global youth movement, World Merit. She is currently a student at the University of Waterloo in the Environment and Business program, minoring in International Development.