In her Netflix special ‘The Call to Courage’, Brene Brown talks about how things used to be for her when ‘The fear of shame, the fear of criticism was so great… that I engineered smallness in my life’.

Brown’s story hit home for me.

I remember as a student, knowing the answer in class, but not putting up my hand because I didn’t want my classmates to think i was a know-it-all or ‘too smart’. I equally remember praying not to be called on to give an answer or an opinion for fear of not knowing what was ‘right’.  As an adult, I recall the times I held back from delivering presentations or didn’t apply for certain leadership roles – even though I dearly wanted to – for fear that I didn’t know enough or wasn’t experienced enough . There have been variations of that behaviour right through my life, all with the common theme of keeping small and not speaking up.

But, courage to speak the truth is one of my touchstone values so when Brene also said ‘Brave leaders are never silent around hard things” I sat up and paid attention.


The hard times are when we most want to be small

‘Brave leaders are never silent around hard things” Gosh that’s a hard sentence to hear. Because, to be honest, the hard things are exactly the times we most want to be small and silent.

  • We don’t want to initiate a conversation with our colleague asking her to commit to doing her share of the workload rather than leaving it all to others.
  • When a friend asks for our opinion on a work situation, we’d rather not be the ones to break it to her that it sounds like her behaviour towards some of her workmates is bullying and her language dismissive.
  • We’d much prefer to be silent and pretend it never happened than to acknowledge our poor judgement in a meeting and apologise to our colleagues for placing them in an awkward position.


Why do we run from discomfort?

Why do we prefer to engineer smallness in our lives in these and other uncomfortable situations?  Because speaking up in hard situations feels uncomfortable and risky and dangerous. And as soon as we get a whiff of uncomfortable and risky and dangerous our human brain, which is wired to keep us safe and keep us connected to our fellow humans, starts screaming RUN! RUN! RUN!

Or in my case: ‘Stay small, get down low, be quiet and let this go away’


What do you do in hard moments?

Thriving leaders do the work to know themselves: we discover our strengths, values, challenges, biases and habits, both helpful and unhelpful. We do this work because we know and believe that in order to know and lead others successfully we must first know and lead ourselves.

So, how well do you know your go-to behaviours around hard moments?


Deepen your self awareness

Consider these questions as a way of digging in to your current habits and patterns:

      • When do I engineer smallness in my life?
      • What are the situations that feel uncomfortable, risky and dangerous for me?
      • What’s my go-to behaviour when I feel like that?

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