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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Five Leadership Lessons from Vulnerability

On Wednesday 17th February 2021, in the midst of the UK country-wide Lockdown 3.0, HappyMaven launched an important conversation about the lessons learned over the last 12 tumultuous months with leading experts from Wellbeing, Diversity, Inclusion & Communications.

With over 50 guests, it was clear that the topic of vulnerability and leadership was valuable to many other leaders. 

Suki Bassi, Chief Happiness Officer at HappyMaven was joined by three inspiring panellists, Nicole Reboe, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Brunswick, New York; Rhiannon Staples, CMO at HiBob, New York; and Carmel Bawa, News Editor at Schneider Electric, London to discuss their experiences, learnings and advice as people leaders. 

Lesson 1

“Take your ‘mask’ off” - Opening up with colleagues about vulnerabilities unlocks a new level of mutual trust and appreciation, leading to more open relationships and enhanced motivation.

After living through a year like no other before - disrupted by economic uncertainty, lockdown restrictions, digital adoption, civil and political unrest, physical and mental health challenges, diversity on the agenda and zoom fatigue - Suki opened with a pertinent quote from the formidable research professor, Dr. Brené Brown: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weaknesses.” The purpose of HappyMaven’s round table webinar was to recognise vulnerability and adversity and embrace the power that these qualities give you as a people leader and an ally. 

Lesson 2

“People will join you in a place of vulnerability” - It’s ok to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable means being in touch with reality. In fact, people will join you there.

This year, Carmel returned to the workplace following maternity leave, finding a very different way of working than the place she left beforehand. Carmel found that sharing her authentic self and true emotions became a strength in times of unrest. She encourages people to “Take your ‘mask’ off” noting that opening up with her colleagues about vulnerabilities unlocked a new level of trust and appreciation and led to more open relationships and enhanced motivation.  

Nicole, having lived half of her life in the UK and half in the US considers herself well-versed when it comes to dealing with ambiguity and embracing opportunities. However, no experience could have prepared her for the events of 2020 - both personally and professionally. “Experiencing racial and social injustice overflow alongside the pandemic has been a lot to contain, but what I’ve learned is that it’s ok not to contain it. Being vulnerable means being in touch with reality, and it’s ok to be vulnerable - in fact, people will join you in a place of vulnerability.”

Lesson 3

“We’re a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for” -  We have built an amazing sense of resilience and will walk away from this experience with skills and abilities that we didn't even know we had in us.” 

Ahead of 2020, Rhiannon and the HiBob team understood that change was happening in the workplace, in terms of the employee profile and what they expect from their employers. The pandemic, however, thrust everyone into a place that forced rapid adaptation in terms of communication, collaboration and productivity. “I have learned that we’re a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. If we would have known the weight we would have been carrying 12 months ago, we wouldn’t have thought it was possible - but here we are. We have built an amazing sense of resilience and will walk away from this experience with skills and abilities that we didn't even know we had in us.” 


Lesson 4

“Business focus has shifted from performance and challenges to wellbeing and connection” - Leadership teams have turned to HR for guidance during this time.

Rhiannon shared a learning that HiBob has implemented for their people management; the shift from measuring ‘tasks’ to ‘goals’ to focusing on outcomes, rather than process and outputs. This shift in focus indicates an understanding that employees' hours of productivity may have changed throughout the pandemic to accommodate home and care responsibilities, but that they are still committed to their roles and servicing the needs of the business. 

Rhiannon raised the evolved role of HR as leaders in the last 12 months with HR establishing a key seat at the leadership table as businesses turn more frequently to HR for guidance during this time. The business focus has shifted from performance and challenges to wellbeing and connection, and the dialogue has changed to address how people managers are empowered to lead with empathy and enable their employees to work remotely.

Nicole said that the way in which Brunswick communicates with their employees has evolved as a result of the events of 2020. It’s crucial to solicit feedback and listen to employees, but when familiar methods such as gathering in person to build trust and intimacy have been taken away, the management team has to rethink how they take the temperature of the employee mood and proactively understand how people are feeling and thinking. They implemented both formal and informal channels including minority focus groups, employee satisfaction surveys, company-wide engagement campaigns, which all serve as touchpoints for people to comfortably express themselves in diverse ways.

We asked our panellists to reflect on the last 12 months and share what advice they would give to themselves. Nicole summarised the panel's sentiment by saying; “I would encourage more time to decompress. Feeling anxious about a situation makes people want to make order out of chaos and re-establish a routine, but knowing how long we’ve now endured this, I would advise myself to sit with the chaos and not feel so eager to regain order so quickly.”

Lesson 5

Provide transparent and honest internal communications” - People want to hear from genuine leaders who provide authentic comms throughout the organisation.

Carmel’s advice is to provide transparent and honest communications. People want to hear from genuine leaders who provide authentic comms throughout the organisation. Without the pandemic, would these positive changes and enhanced value for HR have happened organically? Perhaps. But employees not only deserve open, fair and honest communications, they demand it from their employers. 

Reflecting on the last 12 months and the shift in focus and priority for people management across businesses globally, we’ve turned an important corner and there’s no going back. We are hopeful that the days of management paying lip service to their employees is over and we’ve adopted a more empathetic and authentic approach to people management. We have a clear and demonstrable understanding of how the dynamic of vulnerability can enhance relationships in the workplace and how feeling uncomfortable can lead to a place of strength and unity, if you’ll let it. 

Become part of HappyMaven’s HR Leaders Network to join our quarterly round table discussions about the most important HR, wellbeing and D&I topics that impact our every day. 


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