On not keeping your cards close to the vest
She thought it was the biggest failure of her career. “Honestly, I cried for a week.” But the TEDTalk Brene Brown delivered went on to generate 60 million views and catapulted her to six #1 NYTimes best selling books.
The story below is about pushing yourself to be real, even in situations where it is easy to hide behind the safe mask of social norms.
Brene Brown is probably not the first name you think of when it comes to technology partnerships. But authentic relationships are what build durable partnerships. And no one has studied the vulnerability that builds trust more than Brene Brown.
In 2010, the TED Conference organized an event at the University of Houston where Brown had been a researcher and professor for a decade. She titled her talk “The Power of Vulnerability.”
“The whole thing was a bit of a shit show. [My family and I] had flown back from Maui the night before. We get back around 10 o’clock at night.
On the flight back I look at Steve [my husband] and I said “You know what, I’m going to do something so crazy tomorrow. I’m going to be super vulnerable. I’m going to talk about having a breakdown in my 40s. I’m going to talk about getting a therapist. And how much that bullshit is hard.”
And he’s like “Jesus, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
Because up until that point - and this is the difference between your 30s and 40s - it’s a full on hustle [in your 30s]. It is ‘Look at me, I don’t suck.’ It’s high-tailing it as fast as you can from failure. It is the proving decade.
You’re so freaking tired in your 40s. That you’re just like “I can’t do it anymore.” I would keep trying to outrun vulnerability but at this point, my hip hurts.
So I woke up that morning and all my nice stuff was [still] packed. I couldn’t find my right shoe so I grabbed some sandals. My makeup was still packed. So I put on some lipstick and some under eye concealer and I just left.
I had no idea that this was going to be filmed and watched by 60 million people. No Spanx. Nothing.
I went. I was super vulnerable. I talked about all the things I’d told Steve I was going to talk about.
And I thought it was an unmitigated clusterfuck. I was like ‘Oh my god, I hope no one sees this because I will lose my career as an academic.
Later, when the team at TED called Brown and told her they wanted to post her talk on their homepage, she tried to decline. But they insisted.
When that went up [on the TED website], I literally could not get out of bed. I was like “this is the biggest failure of my career to date.”
And in the immortal words of my husband, he said “no one is ever going to watch that. Do you think they’re going to Google “Brene Brown vulnerability?”
To her husband’s surprise, Brown’s speech has been more widely searched than any of the thousands of TedTalks available online.
What does this story mean for you and your partnerships?
Every time you have a conversation with your partner, you have an opportunity to form a connection with that person. Connection starts with opening up about who you are.
As Suzie Reider once taught me, “Companies don’t buy from other companies. People buy from people.”
I’m not going to pretend to be Brene Brown here. But I know what it feels like to come away from a conversation with someone knowing that I can trust them. I’m sure you do too.
Those moments that build trust come when you reveal how shitty your day is going. Or how difficult your boss is being. Or how concerned you are that this deal is falling apart. And often times, you have to find the courage to take the first step.
But when should you be vulnerable?
I’m not suggesting you spend your days dropping truth bombs just for the sake of being more “authentic.”
But try inverting the phrase “hold your cards close to the vest.” When you meet a partner 1:1 for the first time, lay down a card. Say something you would not say infront of an audience. This will be uncomfortable. But try it. Listen for how they respond. Do they share something back? Then lay down another card.
Or ask yourself after each partner conversation, “What did they learn about me in that conversation? And what did I learn about them?”
After telling the story above, Brene Brown said “what that failure taught me that changed the course of my life and my career - if I’m not a little bit nauseous and a little bit scared about what I’m doing and if I’m not being real then my work becomes irrelevant.”
The excerpt above from Brene Brown’s interview on the How To Fail podcast.
You can find Brene Brown’s books here.
For more on authenticity and leadership, I suggest this piece by executive coach Ed Bautista and the footnotes he provides.