Brené Brown: Navigating Fear, Vulnerability, & Leadership

In a session filled with vulnerability, leadership insights, and the power of gratitude, Brené Brown shared her profound wisdom, resonating deeply with many. The notes from EO Fort Worth members capture the essence of Brené’s teachings, interwoven with personal reflections that bring her concepts to life. This blog seeks to weave together Brené’s guidance with the experiences and insights of our diverse members.

The Balancing Act

Brené begins with a powerful message: “We’re not our best selves when we’re in fear.” This sets the stage for a discussion on how gratitude can serve as an antidote to fear, preventing us from spiraling into negativity.

“I’m scary when I get scared.”

Brené Brown

So instead of acceptibgbthe fear, she leaned into gratitude. In one story about her family they recognized that she was combatting her fear when she was sharing everything she was grateful for. “I’m grateful for you. I’m grateful you’re a good driver.” She went on and on with other gratitudes.

“She shows a lot of gratitude to prevent fear spirals.” – Notes on Brené Brown

Among the stories she shared, another story of juxtaposition struck a particularly resonant chord—the discovery of the sign language interpretation for vulnerability. Brené expressed her initial desire to align her work solely with the sign for an open heart, a symbol of openness and courage. However, she soon encountered the profound truth that this openness cannot exist without acknowledging the inherent fear and uncertainty that accompanies it, depicted by the sign of buckling knees.

This revelation was a powerful moment, highlighting the inseparable nature of courage and fear in the act of being vulnerable. Brené’s story underscored a fundamental truth about human connection and growth: to fully embrace the openness of vulnerability, we must also accept the discomfort and risk that comes with it. This balance between the courage to be seen and the fear of judgment is what makes vulnerability such a powerful catalyst for change.

Vulnerability: A Universal Right

In our quest for connection and authenticity, Brené elevates vulnerability from a state often avoided to a fundamental right, urging us to embrace our imperfections and uncertainties as a source of strength.

“Vulnerability is a right, not a privilege.”

Brené Brown

However, she acknowledged that this is not always the world in which we are operating in and we do need to be mindful and discern the different situations.

The Value of Celebrating Every Win

In the world of relentless pursuit and constant innovation, a common refrain echoes across industries: “We’re only as good as our last win.” This mindset, however, can inadvertently lead to an underappreciation of our achievements, driven by the fear that celebrating might cause complacency. Yet, this fear is unfounded. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to suggest that recognizing victories leads teams to rest on their laurels. In fact, research points in the opposite direction—celebrating successes not only brings joy into the workplace but also significantly boosts productivity.

Redefining our metrics for success offers a refreshing perspective. Instead of measuring our worth by the victories behind us, what if we shifted our focus to learning? “You are only as good as your last learning.” This approach values growth and improvement over mere outcomes, fostering an environment where every experience, whether deemed a ‘win’ or not, is seen as a vital opportunity for learning.

“We’re only as good as our ability to learn from the last thing we did, whether it was a win or a loss.”

Brené Brown

Moreover, the act of celebrating itself can amplify our experiences of joy. Brené Brown highlights the importance of practicing gratitude, especially during moments of triumph. It’s not just about acknowledging what we’ve achieved; it’s about savoring the joy that comes with it. “Practicing gratitude, during moments of joy, actually increases the joy.” This mindset encourages a culture where gratitude and learning go hand in hand, ensuring that every step forward is recognized, celebrated, and used as a springboard for future growth and success.

By embracing this philosophy, we not only enhance our work environment but also reinforce the notion that our journey is marked by continuous learning, not just by the wins we accumulate. It’s a powerful reminder to celebrate the small victories, to cherish the joy they bring, and to always look forward to the lessons that await.

Leadership: A Quality Beyond Titles

Brené’s observations reveal that true leadership is not confined by titles but is manifested in the empowerment and recognition of others’ potential, regardless of the setting.

“Anyone who holds themselves responsible for finding the potential in people and processes, and has the courage to develop that potential, that is a real leader.”

Brené Brown

“She has been in C-suites and not seen a single leader and been on factory floors and been surrounded by leaders.” – Notes on Brené Brown

The Daring Leadership Assessment

Highlighting the essence of daring leadership, Brené introduces a free resource, the Daring Leader Assessment, accessible on her website This tool evaluates the four elements of courage in leadership, inviting introspection and growth.

Embracing Life’s Seasons

Reflecting on the ebbs and flows of life, Brené shares a comforting thought: “We have seasons in our life and if you are going through a hard one know it will pass.”

Sheryle Gillihan shares a personal reflection, resonating with Brené’s message on life’s seasons and the transient nature of hardships. “I especially loved when she shared her own trust scores were low… recognizing the low trust score was an honest reflection of the tough season she’s in.”

Leslie Shields Botvidson echoes this sentiment, finding solace in the concept of “seasons” to navigate life’s ups and downs with grace and gratitude.

The BIG Framework for Compassionate Living

In her transformative work, Brené Brown introduces a profound concept that serves as a beacon for personal and professional growth: the BIG framework. This acronym encapsulates the principles of Boundaries, Integrity, and Generosity, elements that Brené deems essential for cultivating a life of compassion, connection, and fulfillment. Let’s explore each component of the BIG framework and its impact on our lives.

Boundaries: The Foundation of Compassion

At the heart of compassionate interactions lies the concept of Boundaries. Brené argues that understanding and respecting personal and professional boundaries is the first step toward genuine compassion. It’s about clearly communicating our limits and expectations—defining what’s okay and what’s not okay. This clarity allows us to interact with others in a way that honors our values and respects the values of those around us. By establishing boundaries, we protect our space and well-being, enabling us to engage with others more openly and empathetically.

Integrity: Staying True to Our Values

Integrity, as Brené describes, is about choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy, and practicing our values, not just professing them. It involves a steadfast adherence to our core values, ensuring that our actions align with our beliefs. This alignment fosters an environment of trust and authenticity, where individuals feel empowered to be their true selves.

Sharing a powerful story about her daughter (the side ponytail story) and the struggles of staying true to oneself, Brené underscores the courage required to embrace vulnerability and the profound growth it can bring. At one point she shared that she told her daughter, “I gave you bad advice.” To this her daughter replied, “No, you didn’t, but it’s really hard to follow.”

“Vulnerability is not easy. It’s not supposed to be.”

Brené Brown

She also shared the quote from Maya Angelo that inspires her “I belong everywhere, I belong nowhere.” Dr. Brown’s takeaway from this quote was that we can assess situations quickly and can be adaptable – but when we abandon who we are to gain acceptance, we have sacrificed any sense of belonging.

Generosity: The Lens of Kindness

The final component of the BIG framework, Generosity, encourages us to extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. It’s about approaching interactions with a mindset of kindness and giving people the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean ignoring our boundaries or compromising our integrity; rather, it’s about cultivating empathy and understanding, recognizing that everyone is doing their best with the resources they have. Generosity in this context helps to diffuse conflict, strengthen connections, and build a culture of empathy and support.

From a leadership perspective our members captured the following notes: What leaders bring into the room is allowed in the room.  What is not, is not.  It’s important to remember that being silent is not allowing something in the room.

Incorporating The BIG Framework

Incorporating the BIG principles into our daily lives challenges us to think deeply about how we relate to others and ourselves. It invites us to consider the impact of our actions and to strive for a balance that promotes well-being, connection, and mutual respect. As we navigate the complexities of life, the BIG framework offers a beacon of clarity, guiding us toward more meaningful and compassionate interactions.

Fostering Connection in a Divided World

There was a question asked about being empathetic and staying inclusive when team members are faced with global political tensions. In today’s fragmented society, Brené shared that we can build organizations centered on belonging and connection, advocating for intentional spaces that nurture these values.

How do we build an organization around belonging and connection when the world is trying to pull us apart?  “We have to create space for it.  You have to continually make more space so belonging can occur.”

A great way to respond to someone in need (say after a concerning check-in): “What does support from me look like right now?”

Call to Action

Let’s embrace the cycles of life with grace, practice vulnerability as a strength, and celebrate our achievements, big or small. Share how Brené’s teachings have influenced your journey or inspired changes in your life and work, fostering a community of connection and growth.

Discover more about the Daring Leader Assessment and Brené Brown’s work at Brené Brown’s Website.

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Insights and notes from Sheryle Gillihan, Chris Wong, John Cornelson, Leslie Shields Botvidson, and team members from our chapter management team at Vision Implementers.

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