Julia Kerr Henkel, MD of Lumminos, encourages leaders to be brave enough to lean into their discomfort.

While the majority of business leaders understand that strong, clear communications in the workplace, especially during times of uncertainty, change and upheaval, leads to better staff engagement and business performance, many are unaware of the real barriers to open and transparent communication. In many instances, the emotional armoury that leaders and employees use to ‘protect themselves’ might leave them feeling at risk, awkward and exposed.

Put simply, armouring up refers to a multitude of self-defensive behaviours and mechanisms that we use to avoid feeling vulnerable. In the devastating wake of Covid-19, there couldn’t be a more vulnerable experience we are collectively living through – and as a result, a greater need for us to be more courageous.

While self-protection is sometimes necessary, we need to develop enough bravery and self-awareness to recognise our specific ‘go-to’ armour that we grab onto during difficult situations.

Our armouring shields might lead us to do one or more of the following things:

  • Move away: Withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, keeping quiet and even keeping secrets; or
  • Move toward: Seeking to overly engage, appease and please others; or
  • Move against: Trying to gain control and even power over others, being confrontational, even aggressive, and using tactics such as micro-managing, shutting others down, shaming, blaming and finger-pointing.

Think about a leader or business owner who is faced with the current Covid-19 scenario, and who is sitting with more questions than answers and still has a pressing responsibility to provide clarity to his/her people and stakeholders.  Their armouring up process and inner dialogue while feeling this pressure may lead on to feelings of shame, scarcity and comparison.

Common forms of armouring up

To help leaders along the path of developing keener self-awareness, there is a long list of behaviours – based on the research of Dr Brené Brown – which speaks to armouring up and encouragingly, corresponding invitations to practice more daring, courageous and authentic leadership.

Armoured leadership behaviours Daring leadership behaviours
Being a knower and needing to be right Being a learner and getting it right
Weaponising fear and anxiety Normalising fear and anxiety and demonstrating clarity, hope, empathy and kindness
Driving perfectionism and fostering a fear of failure/mistakes Modelling and encouraging healthy striving, experimentation and self-compassion
Zigzagging and avoiding tough conversations and decisions Straight talking and taking the right action
Using criticism, resignation and cynicism as self-protection Making contributions and taking risks
Feeling the need to hustle for our worth (performing, people-pleasing, perfecting, policing, politicking, polling, etc.) Knowing our worth (experienced as a quiet calm knowing – without arrogance or aggression)

(By Julia Kerr Henkel)