Wendy Hanson: Welcome. Being a manager is not for the faint of heart. We need tools and we need skills and everything to make this role very effective. We have a wonderful thing to talk about today, and it's about vulnerability. I'm going to introduce Laura, my guest in a moment, and we're going to talk about the work of Brené Brown . If you haven't heard about Brené, let me tell you a little bit about her first.
Wendy Hanson: Brené spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She's the author of five number one New York Times Bestsellers, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness and Dare to Lead. Her most recent book Dare To Lead was released in October 2018 and is the culmination of a seven year study on the future of leadership. Brené also has a documentary on Netflix, that shows you've made it when you have a documentary on Netflix, called The Call To Courage. Totally recommend that you look at that. You're really mainstream when you get a bit part in a movie. Wine Country starting Amy Poehler and friends, where they did a spotting of Brené Brown at a restaurant. Apparently she's really a thing now. That's why it's important that Laura and I talk about her.
Wendy Hanson: Let me introduce my guest Laura. Laura Czys is a seasoned HR professional with more than 14 years of experience working for government institutions as well as spinoffs and unicorn startups. Her specialties include developing, hiring and onboarding programs and understanding and educating on engagement, retention, and providing coaching to managers. She recently received her masters from the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois and is a Brené Brown superfan, finding that practicing vulnerability in the workplace positively influences her interactions with colleagues and coworkers, making challenging impactful situations easier to navigate. Welcome, Laura.
Laura Czys: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Wendy Hanson: Yes. I'm very excited because I don't think I've ever talked to a super fan as excited as you are. Because when we first met, we were in a workshop together that I was leading with my colleague Mark Lesser. When we started talking about leadership and vulnerability, you went on fire. How did you become a Brené Brown superfan?
Laura Czys: It was a number of years ago. I was having some struggles in my personal life. I stumbled upon her Ted talk about vulnerability, and it just really resonated with me. I checked out a book from the library and I remember I was traveling on a plane reading her book and just tears streaming because it was just validation for so much of what I had been feeling and struggling with. She was such a great resource of tools, things to try, and different approaches that really had a big impact. I've shared her Ted talk too many times with my friends. Then I started noticing the same kinds of issues cropping up in the workforce and the more comfortable you become with the tools, the easier it is to see where you could apply them and have a different outcome. So was very excited to see the Dare to Lead book released and devoured it right away because we spend a lot of time at work and a lot of the interactions and the communications and all the people struggles take as much time as the actual work that you're doing.
Wendy Hanson: Yes. People come in different every day to work. That's the thing about humans. You never know what you're going to find.
Laura Czys: Yeah.
Wendy Hanson: What I love about her work too is that she is so humble and speaks of things about, "I'm afraid when I get up on the stage. I'm still afraid." She tells great stories. I listened to Dare to Lead. I did the audio book and she reads it herself. It was so lovely to hear her telling those stories.
Laura Czys: You feel like she's the best friend you never had.
Wendy Hanson: Exactly. Yes. She's talking to you. What part of Brené's work has had the biggest impact on your work? Because I love how you used it in your personal life first and kind of got it in your soul and then you moved into the workplace.
Laura Czys: It's hard to narrow it down because I think everything that she talks about is kind of interwoven. But the things that I try to live and breathe every day at work is the idea of balancing. She has a quote and she says, "Choose courage over comfort. Choose wholehearted over armor, and choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid at the exact same time." For me, that is often what I find myself dealing with, are situations that are hard and it's going to take a lot to be direct and be authentic and to get vulnerable with people and have those hard conversations and be afraid to have them, but do it anyway.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. You cannot take risk and really make a difference and be courageous if you're not afraid and if you're not vulnerable. All these things that we didn't always match up before. Say we looked at 10 years ago.
Laura Czys: Well, and the idea that you can be both things at the same time that you're never going to stop feeling that fear, but you need to find a way to be brave enough to do it anyways. So yeah.
Wendy Hanson: She's very quotable. I have a quote here too, because I love this. "Vulnerability is having the courage to show up when you know you cannot control the outcomes." That is, like God, when we have surprises like that. In your experience and in HR, why is this so important for leaders, that piece of vulnerability and courage and you can't control the outcomes?
Laura Czys: Because I think it's something that everybody experiences, that you have something that you need to do and you're not sure how things are going to end up. I'm working for a company that started as a startup in San Francisco, and there was so much unknown about what we were doing. Especially in the HR world, there were things that we hadn't built out yet. There were issues that weren't even identified. It was just often hard to say, "I don't know," but that was the best answer because that's more likely to start a conversation, which is what you want to happen than if you walk in a room and act like you've got it all figured out. People aren't drawn to that. They think, well there's nothing for me to do here.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. Oh, I love that. It's true. I think leadership has evolved. I've been an executive coach like 21 years, and you see the evolution of how asking for help now and saying, "I don't know," are really signs of a good leader. Because when we coach people, we often have to remind them of that. You don't have to know the answers. You'll show up as you present more powerfully if you just say, "Wow. I don't know about this one. Let's think this through."
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. As you look at the work that you do in the company, how are you getting that vulnerability in these conversations part of the culture at your company?
Laura Czys: We have an opportunity working in human resources to influence managers and leaders and to encourage them to have those rumble conversations, to be vulnerable, to be authentic with their employees and to say the things that aren't easy to say, but to do it in a way that's thoughtful and that's constructive. For me, I spent a lot of time coaching. We have a lot of new managers here. I spend time coaching them to, "Have you had this conversation with your employee? You can't fix something if you're not aware of it." And giving them the tools to do it in a way that's professional, that's meaningful, and that's going to build trust with that employee or with that team rather than damage it.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. How do you go about ... You mentioned what she calls the rumble. People might not know what a rumble is. Sounds kind of tough to me. She's got a very good way to describe that. Tell us about the rumble and how you might coach somebody around this so that they can use it with their team.
Laura Czys: Typically, when there are issues or if you're dealing with a problem where the team can't come to a resolution or a consensus on how to move forward, a rumble is having a tough discussion and a commitment to bringing out all the issues, understanding that it's going to be difficult and unclear and messy, but that you're going to stay focused until you find something that the group agrees is going to be the best way to move forward.
Laura Czys: For us here, one of our core values is optimism. That blended with this idea of the rumble discussion is interesting because it's a commitment to stay curious and to realize that you have the right people there, that you have the tools that you need, and it's just a matter of putting it all together to find what works best. A rumble discussion, it can be challenging because you have to open yourself up that you need to be listening to what other people are saying. You need to be comfortable with the unknown and you need to show up. You need to stay with it until you find the solution.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. I love those components. You need to be fearless in owning our own parts. Like what part did I have in this? Which often we don't do. We don't do that courageously all the time. "Oh, this is what it is." Listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard. Listening is such a critical piece of this, isn't it?
Laura Czys: Yes. I think that was part of what drew me to her initially. I loved that she's a social scientist so her work is grounded in research and data, but she talks about the pause, before you respond to something to pause, to check in with yourself. Often it gives you an opportunity to really take in what it is that the person just said to you and how that impacts you before you actually come up with a response. I think so often when we're having conversations, we're already formulating our response to it before the person's even finished talking.
Wendy Hanson: Yes. We do a lot of coaching around that concept. I just had a conversation with a coach who said, "Yes, when I went to coach school, the first thing they talked about was listening." I thought, "I know how to listen." Then they realized, "Oh no, they don't really know how to listen." Yes. Because we talk about it in the levels of listening, that the first level is you're really in your own head, thinking of your next question. You can always feel that from somebody. Or level two is when I'm really focused on you. When she talks about listening, it's like you're not onto your next chapter yet. You're really there. It's so powerful.
Laura Czys: Yes, and vulnerable. The level one is almost the armor or the defense. You're not checking in with that person because you're disconnected.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. Because the pause, I love that too, because the pause is not only good for the listener, but it's good for the person who's going to be speaking. If somebody pauses when they're listening to me, I know that they're being thoughtful. Sometimes we just rushed so much, we don't catch that.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: One of the pieces that I was reading too that I loved is kind of part of the rumble that she talks about her work with her team. That's why I love that she uses so many great examples about when she felt like she was letting her team down or she was pushing them to deadlines that were unreasonable. She said they did an exercise and asked two questions, what does support look like from me, and what does it not look like? I think that is so powerful. I could see that as so many teams if managers were able to use that kind of dialogue and those kinds of questions and everybody puts it out there, we'd be able to solve things much easier because that all relates to the psychological safety issue, which is really big these days. With Project Aristotle, which is part of what we built our work on at BetterManager. It's one of the key components of that is that people want to feel safe at work. How have you seen that kind of dialogue and safety play out in your organization?
Laura Czys: It's interesting that you mention it. We've had quite a few conversations, maybe not framed exactly in these terms, but definitely we have a very unique workforce. It's a blend of software engineers, customer success managers, salespeople, and as you can imagine with the variety of the roles, there's all sorts of personality traits and characteristics that come along with that. We started a recognition and appreciation program. What I learned from that is that not everyone likes to be recognized and appreciated the same way. Calling someone out publicly may make them very uncomfortable and a better way to recognize them would be to pull them aside and have a really meaningful conversation with them one on one.
Laura Czys: It's the same thing here. I think at root, Brené's work focuses on good interpersonal skills, good communication skills. A good manager is going to be having conversations with their employees to learn about their preferences. It may go beyond support that are going to have conversations about, "I'm not a big fan of meetings. I'd rather be able to have conversations through instant messaging or Slack," or whatever the tool is. But just taking some time and getting to know that person. We spend more time at work often than we spend at home, so it's not surprising that we would need to have the same kind of conversations that we'd have if we were in a relationship or if it was a parent child. It's the same basic concepts.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah, it is. It's so incredibly important to know that we have key things that we learned though from Brené that we can bring into work. Let's try to review those so that people could listen to it. It's like having those rumble questions and being a good listener. What else is something that is a clear takeaway for folks?
Laura Czys: That's a very good question. Where her work started was around shame. So often people are responding to things and the way they're responding is rooted in shame. She talks a lot about what shame in the workforce looks like. If you look at toxic behaviors with teams, gossip, backchannels, comparisons, bullying, blaming, harassment, discrimination, all of those are toxic behaviors, and their root is shame. If you're seeing those kinds of issues in the workforce, then you know that there's an opportunity there to get vulnerable to identify what it is that's triggering this shame and to try to have conversations so that people are feeling more recognized, are feeling safe, are feeling understood so that they don't have to resort to those negative toxic behaviors.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. I'm sure you've had some specific incidents of things where you've had to have those kinds of conversations with people. If you see somebody exhibiting that kind of behavior, what's some general guidelines? Because we hear about this, you and I in coaching all the time, people will say, "I've got to give somebody some feedback. I'm hearing these things are happening, but I don't know how to approach it." What advice would you give there, Laura?
Laura Czys: The best advice that I've found to work is to take some time to really think through what it was that you saw, to gather some additional information. Back to Brené, of taking time to pause and really check in with yourself and make sure that you're not having some sort of reaction to what you think you saw, but to get prepared. Then I found it not the best practice to do it in the moment, but to do it after some time has gone by and you've been able to reflect and to prepare, to schedule it. So make it kind of a formal situation where you have an opportunity uninterrupted to have a conversation.
Laura Czys: But there again, to go in planning to share the experience or what you saw, but also to carve out time to listen and to get the other person's perspective. I think so often in situations, there's always two sides to every story. There's two people involved or there's two groups and it's important to understand the entire perspective of it because I think the things that you learn when you talk to a person will inform how you choose to resolve the issue.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. That makes sense. One thing that's come up. I've experienced this and had this question come up for managers. Because sometimes you'll hear about a problem of toxic behavior that you cannot observe because somebody said, "So-and-so is doing this," or, "So-and-so is doing that." It's so much easier when you can say, "I saw this was the impact it had on me." But when it comes around the back way and then you still have to be the one to talk about it, any ideas on that?
Laura Czys: Well, and where possible, I will redirect it and say, "You really need to have a conversation with that person about it. I didn't see it. You're going to be the best resource for that." But absolutely if you're going in, and the same tools can apply where you can share, "I didn't see this, but I heard this account. What do you have as a response to that?" Or, "What can you tell me that'll help build a bigger picture for me?" One of the tools that Brené talks about in the Dare to Lead book is the Paint Me A Picture. I think there's a lot of different ways that you can use that. Having a hard conversation with someone, you can ask them, "Paint me a picture of what the circumstances were, what was going on, so that I have a better understanding of how this happened."
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. I love that as a lead in, "Paint me a picture." Yeah. And just to remember that that's something that we can use all the time in different circumstances.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: It really helps clear things up.
Laura Czys: The one that I have used quite a bit since I read the book is the story I'm telling myself. So often you're in the work situation or you're in whatever situation and there's what's going on around you, but then there's what's going on in your head. I've had really effective conversations with people when I've said, "The story I'm telling myself is you think that I am not doing a good job." Then it gives them an opportunity to respond to something and to share, "That's not what I'm thinking at all," or, "Well, you didn't do X, Y and Z." It's a conversation starter.
Wendy Hanson: Yes. I love that. Yeah. The story I'm telling myself. That's another key to remember. That's what I love. She has so many nuggets that are memorable that you can use to change the dynamics.
Laura Czys: Yes. And it worked.
Wendy Hanson: And it worked. Yes, and in our personal relationships and our work relationships.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: It works all over. Another concept that she talked about in Dare to Lead is the marbles in the jar that she learned from her daughter. Would you tell that story? Do you remember it?
Laura Czys: Yes. Her daughter had had a really horrible day. She was talking to her about ... She used the example of the marbles in the jar. It was around trust, who you can put trust in. The jar, if you fill it with small pieces of sand and water, it doesn't leave very much room for the marbles that you want to include, and the marbles are the big things in your life, like your family and your friends and meaningful work.
Laura Czys: The idea is that you have to first start with the important things in your life and then fill the rest of this space with the other things that are of lesser importance. I think I read something similar to that somewhere else and it resonated at the time. Then I loved that story. But then when she's talking to her daughter about the really horrible day. Was her daughter in third grade at that point or small?
Wendy Hanson: I think so. Yeah.
Laura Czys: She says, "How do you know that you can trust this person?" She's like, "Well, she always gives me half a seat at lunchtime." Or, "She remembers all of my grandparents' names because they were from a blended family." So yeah. Maybe you have pieces that I've left out of the marble jar.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. The half seat at the friend's table, when she would get to lunch late, her friend was a good enough friend. She wanted her to be able to sit with her. So she shared her half seat. What I got out of a lot of that was that it's not the big things. It's the little things that build trust, the things about appreciating somebody, remembering their name. We often think we have to do very, very big things to build trust. But especially, I think as a manager, it's the accumulation of the little things that makes the biggest difference with people. Yeah.
Laura Czys: That was a very meaningful part of the book.
Wendy Hanson: The other analogy I think that I heard too in the book with the marbles in the jar, and I use this in terms of sometimes like looking at a safe and a bank account, you have to put the good stuff in, in order to, when you need to give some feedback, you built up trust and credibility in order to take things out the other side.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: I think part of the story that she told about school is the teacher did this in school. The teacher had a jar of marbles, and when the class as a group would do good things, they get marbles in there. When the class as a group did things that were not so good, they took marbles out. I think that's a wonderful visceral kind of concept that if kids learn it that early, just think how much better they're going to be at work when they are 20 somethings and they've practiced this over time.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. One thing that we talk about a lot is recognition versus appreciation. Because I think Brené talks about that too, but recognition is for what you did, like you did these great sales numbers so you accomplished this. Appreciation is for who you are as a person. I think that actually makes people feel vulnerable, I notice, like calling out to other people what they really appreciate about them. Which is surprising.
Wendy Hanson: We do an exercise often called an Appreciation Circle where you go around and you take one person at a time, and what do I appreciate about you as a person? People are so afraid of that exercise because they're afraid no one will have anything to say about me. I've done that exercise for 20 years and it has never failed once because people are always ... You don't realize you could be on a team for half a day and people will get your essence and be able to sell, "I appreciate how you came into this group and just seemed comfortable." "I appreciate that you reached out and asked for help." That kind of concept, I think, is part of this and very important.
Laura Czys: Yes. It's the informal call outs. It's thinking ... It's interesting. There's lots of ways that you can show appreciation for people. Brené's work, I think, she sets the stage for building on showing appreciation, showing gratitude, being authentic and being able to share just who you are and what's important to you.
Wendy Hanson: [crosstalk 00: 28: 21]. Right. Because if we can show up at work as who we are, that we're not a different person when it comes to work than we are in our personal life. I had a discussion with somebody yesterday who said she actually worked for a head of the house for a five star restaurant. She had a lot of millennials that were working for her serving guests. She was saying something about they had gone on a field trip to a winery as one of these things this restaurant does, which is great. Some of her staff were there and were so curious about who she really was. What do you do on the weekend? She's like, "I never thought of that." We talked about, what would it be like if they knew you as the person also? You don't have to say everything, but if you're a mystery to them and all you are is their manager and who has to give them feedback, it doesn't create openness in the relationship.
Wendy Hanson: It was fascinating because once she got that, she was like, "Oh, I think it would be helpful for them to know." Like you go to yoga class on Sundays or you like to meditate. When we find that we have things in common, it just is incredibly empowering to the relationship.
Laura Czys: Well, and back to the questions, what does support from me look like? What does it not look like? I think that's all a piece of knowing someone and the more time that you spend in conversation or getting to know them and understanding, the better you are at figuring out, "Oh, she's not usually like this. She must be having a hard day. Maybe I should check in with her." Or, "That response sat with me wrong. But it doesn't fit the picture of who I know she is on a regular basis. Something else must be going on." That, I think, is part of vulnerability too, is being able to say, "Hey, this isn't like you. This is how it made me feel. Can we talk a little bit more about it?"
Wendy Hanson: Right, right. Oh, I love that. Well I think we could talk about this for days.
Laura Czys: We could.
Wendy Hanson: We could. We're going to put in the show notes on the BetterManager.us website, we'll put some pieces on there. If you have anything you'd like to share, some Brené quotes, because you're really good at that. We can put those in the show notes too. I'm going to put on a little animation that I have seen. I'm sure you've seen it. It's empathy versus compassion.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: Just a little animation, which is just beautiful. It's just like two and a half minutes. I think it so speaks to how we can be with people when they're having a tough time. I hope people will go on and look at that because that's good to play in the family, kids looking at it, as well as playing that at a meeting at work would be great too.
Laura Czys: Well, and I think that's one of my favorite things about her, and I think it is because she's so authentic and you feel like you know her. She takes difficult subjects, complex emotions, and she dials it down into something that's digestible for everyone.
Wendy Hanson: Yeah. Great. I want to thank you for joining me. Do we want to give any shout outs to your company? We haven't even mentioned your company's name.
Laura Czys: No, I work for a phenomenal company called Granular. We were a startup when I joined the company, and we were acquired by DowDuPont and have since spun off, and we're a part of Corteva Agriscience now.
Wendy Hanson: Wow. You have offices all over the place. Where are you based, Laura?
Laura Czys: I'm based in Champaign, Illinois. Our headquarters is in San Francisco. We have offices in Georgia and Des Moines, Iowa.
Wendy Hanson: Okay. Well, they are very lucky to have you. Yes, and in their HR department when you model being a vulnerable leader. Yes, and coming on and having this conversation with me. I really appreciate it. Your last name is Laura Czys?
Laura Czys: Yes. Czys like scissors.
Wendy Hanson: Czys like scissors. Okay, good. If anybody wants to reach out to you, if they have any questions about the work that you're doing, would that be okay?
Laura Czys: Absolutely.
Wendy Hanson: They could check you out on LinkedIn.
Laura Czys: Yes.
Wendy Hanson: Is that the best way maybe? Check your LinkedIn profile?
Laura Czys: Yep. I'm on there pretty frequently.
Wendy Hanson: Okay.
Laura Czys: I'm happy to respond.
Wendy Hanson: Yes. Because you don't always get to talk to a super fan. We'll have a discussion. I think maybe you should lead a book group or something. Yeah. Maybe we'll come up with another activity. Yes.
Laura Czys: Yes. Podcast was number one on the list, and book club will be next.
Wendy Hanson: Okay, good. I love that you're in it now. All right, terrific. Well, thank you, Laura. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us and look forward to staying in touch. Everyone, this is great things for managers and for anybody who wants to have better relationships. Continue growing. Take care.
Laura Czys: Thanks, Wendy.
Wendy Hanson: Thanks.