The secret to effective teams and mindful leadership

"In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they're about brains, but in the future they'll be about the heart." - Minouche Shafik, Director, London School of Economics.



2004 - I burst into tears in my Manager’s office and told her I needed time off to deal with a break up, feeling like a failure for not holding it together on the job.

2010 - I picked up everything I owned and moved to a new city to join a competitive grad program for the Department of Health and Ageing, knowing no one and not really having a clue about what the year would bring.

2011 - My (now) husband called up his family in Spain and told them he wasn’t coming home after we met and fell in love - we were getting married! Two years later I waited 7.5 excruciating hours while he underwent open-heart surgery to treat a congenital heart defect (he went great guns and made a full recovery).

2013 - I took a leap of faith and started my own business in health and wellbeing, fulfilling my dream after many years of self doubt.


The thread that connects all of these moments in my life is that those were times I drew on courage and felt the discomfort of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is to be honest, authentic and true to the messy and scary feelings you get, but not letting them strangle the decisions and actions required. In many ways, it’s a kind of growing up, but you get to do it at any age.


When I look back on my life, those moments have shaped who I am and where I am today.

Nothing about these events is particularly unique. These moments are the stuff of life itself.

But by eliciting the characteristics of courage and vulnerability, events like these are the foundation of growth. In my significant moments, I had to ‘lean in’ and give over the control a little. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but went in anyway, as whole-heartedly as I could.


The face of the workplace is changing. We’ve grown up a little, and learned that it’s OK to take your feelings along to work with you.

Many companies are now sensing that the most effective and productive work is being done by people who feel safe and supported to be authentic, take risks, and trust the people they work with.

“We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, whole-hearted leadership and who are self aware enough to lead from their hearts”, - Dr Brené Brown.

The only way we can do this is to be brave enough to dance with vulnerability and live in a way that is aligned with our values.

 This applies to our professional life just as much as our personal life, if not more.

After all, it is in our working lives that we often don the most masks.   

Dr Brown has pioneered the way we understand workplace culture as it is today, and has begun putting together a map for the way we can lead into the future. On the whole it seems, we are moving towards a new era of communication, collaboration and growth in the workplace. A new frontier in which emotions, honesty, and integrity are at the forefront of conversation and engagement.


‘Project Aristotle’ was the name given to Google’s research study into team effectiveness, conducted on 180 Google teams around the world. They used a variety of scientific methods to determine what makes an ‘effective’ team, including double blind interviews, Google survey data, and a longitudinal study. Their research identified 5 consistent core values that shaped the success of a team, with the strongest at the top:

·       Psychological safety

·       Dependability

·       Structure and clarity

·       Meaning

·       Impact

Psychological safety is  “an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea”.

Psychological safety is a sense of trust and openness that exists within a team, allowing its members to take risks, admit faults and failings, and share new ideas. It cannot be bought or traded for team-building days (though team-building activities can certainly be a good way to begin the process). This sense of safety needs to be embraced by all people on the team to be fully effective. Most notably, anyone at management level must live into these values for the rest of the team to also live it. 

In order to have successful leaders and potentially successful companies, we need to open up the conversation to include the previously challenging topics of compassion, empathy, and emotional awareness.


Jerry Colonna, the CEO Whisperer and founder of Reboot, also believes we are on the path to ‘growing up’. He works with the leaders of the future who are aware of the empathic skills needed to lead a company into the digital age.  Colonna argues that growth is found through self inquiry and self awareness. These skills create leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and honest, and this spreads through the workplace.


So, we are at the point where we ask ourselves what vulnerability is and whether we can see it in action in our current environment.

According to Brené Brown, vulnerability looks like:

-       Leaning in to the tough conversations.

-       Being aware of and not fighting against the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts when they arise – noticing the story in your head and understanding it may not be the reality of the situation.

-       Taking action with thoughtfulness, not just jumping in and reacting.

-       Not getting stuck in past setbacks. For example, noticing the story showing up around how things played out in the past and being aware that it may not play out in the same way now. People change, circumstances change, situations change, so being vulnerable means being open enough to take the situation as it is in the present moment.

-       Being clear in setting boundaries and expectations. In doing so, you are setting others up to succeed.

-       Being inclusive and open to all people.


On the job, vulnerability can show up in any number of ways, and it is not within the scope of this article to define all of them. What you can do though, is see if you can identify three main things within your company, team, or personal behaviour:

·      Do you see yourself or others as safe to take risks, either personal or professional, without fear of ridicule or shame?

·      Do you lean into your work or life practices ‘whole-heartedly’, committing to actions without being fully cognisant of the outcomes? Do you feel supported and encouraged to do so, even if you choose not to?

·      Are you and your leaders working in a way that is aligned to your values, and are you willing to share or acknowledge when you are not aligned to your values?


Vulnerability at work looks like:

·      approaching a supervisor with something you are scared to discuss, like a promotion, a challenge, or something you are struggling with

·      admitting to your team when you’ve made a mistake

·      speaking with a team member under your supervision about poor performance


Vulnerability at home looks like:

·      sharing your discomforts with your spouse around their use of the shared finances.

·      Speaking openly with your teenager about the changes in their body and emotions.

·      Sharing your fears with your loved one about what’s happening with work.


Some important caveats:

This is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

This is not an opportunity to off-load, over-step boundaries, or take advantage of others.

This is not careless abandon of respect and values.

It is simply being brave enough to align yourself with your values, open your heart without judgement or fear, and show your hand, without certainty of the outcome.

Yoga and meditation can open you up to greater self-awareness, courage and vulnerability.

Yoga can help you build physical strength and flexibility in many postures. Take chair pose, arm balances, or bird of paradise pose as great examples of strength-building practices. Or, consider the courage required to push yourself upside-down into a handstand, something you probably haven’t done since you were a kid.

There are also physical postures that will prepare your body for greater courage and vulnerability. All three Warrior poses are great symbols of strength. It doesn’t take much imagination to embody the power of a warrior when taking on these poses. Conversely, many back-bending poses place you in a position of great vulnerability. Camel pose, for example, encourages you to open the chest up towards the sky, and even bare your neck open. In our evolutionary past, this would have put a person at great risk, and to move into this pose now can be confronting and uncomfortable for some people.


Mindfulness meditation can help you tune in to your breath and create a sense of distance from the thoughts running around in your mind. Over time you might start to notice repetitive stories that you can bring into your awareness and examine without judgement. In this way, you can start to make decisions about those stories and whether you are going to allow them to play a feature role in your daily actions.

 You may, for example, isolate a story about a particular co-worker that is making you feel defensive and protective, and unable to connect. You may have certain assumptions about the situation that are based on your own wild theories, and have no basis in fact. Just recognising that this is a story, through mindfulness, can help you to decide whether you want to continue to participate in it or not. From there, you may choose to let down your defences and try connecting with the other person, despite being uncertain of the outcome.

Also, in meditation, there are specific empathy building practices, like compassion meditation, which have been proven to increase empathy, as well as improve wellbeing and reduce stress. It is worthwhile finding a teacher or guided practice to help you build up your own compassion meditation practice.


Let’s open up the conversation in your workplace, so you can align your values with what you do. As a workplace wellbeing consultant, I perform an Energy Audit of you and your team so we can tailor a wellbeing program that suits your needs and people are feeling heard and supported.

Together, we investigate and identify where needs are not being met, where people are putting a lid on the stress (and it continues to boil), and where people are afraid to have the tough conversations. In some cases, people are on the edge of burn out and still turning up to work, trying to manage everything going on at home, with all kinds of stories in their minds about you, the team, and their work. Take this opportunity to lean in to the tough conversations and change your workplace culture, from the inside out. Contact me to find out more.