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“Strong back, soft front, wild heart”

Exploring Secure Base Leadership

A recent addition to our training programs is our Trauma Responsive Leadership program. This training focuses on supporting leaders, new and experienced, to consider self as leader, whilst consciously applying the principles of trauma-informed practice and understanding the importance of a secure base.

The Brene Brown quote: ‘strong back, soft front, wild heart’, captures some of the key concepts of secure base leadership. As a leader being able to show both strength and softness whilst being your authentic self creates the opportunity to build a secure base for your team. As John Maxwell, a well-known business guru states: ‘People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision’.

So how does this work in practice?

A strong back represents how we instil boundaries, clarity around expectations and advocating for self and others. In knowing our own sense of boundaries, we are then able to assist others to set theirs.

A strong back, when considering sensorimotor work, asks us to reflect on the postures we create consciously and unconsciously that reflect our thoughts, feelings and experiences. We rely on our spine as our central support structure, so it is important to consider how our posture and presence reflect our own sense of security and stability, both professionally and personally and what we then offer when leading.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve which connects the brain to the body. It runs alongside the spine from the base of the brain, past the throat, heart and lungs to the digestive system.

When we slouch or bend our neck forward for long periods, this can impact the vagus nerve, hindering our breathing and digestion. This can also exacerbate feelings of stress, keeping the body functioning from the sympathetic nervous system. This is more commonly known as the Fight, Flight, Freeze, Feign response. Many of us unconsciously operate in this state throughout the day.

One of the ways we can stimulate a healthy vagus response is through deep breathing – breathing from the abdomen, not just the chest which keeps us in shallow breathing. Bringing deep abdomen and wide rib cage breathing together and long exhales will begin a relaxation response in the body. This opens our posture and allows us to maintain our strong back and balance so we can be open to supporting others with theirs.

Having a more fragile back and defended front can hinder our ability to be open and compassionate or embody the principles of safety, choice, trustworthiness, collaboration and empowerment. The key is creating the balance between self-care and care for others, as well as accountability and risk taking. In Trauma Responsive Leadership training we discuss creating this balance and strategies to manage when the pendulum swings one way or the other.

In summary, grounding ourselves whilst being flexible and open to change with clear boundaries creates a strong back. The strong back therefore allows us to maintain a soft front, finding that balance to provide stability and consistency to the team.

Soft front builds on Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability. A key part of authentic leadership is being able to tap into your own vulnerability, allowing the space to connect with others and show compassion. A soft front demonstrates empathy, respect and seeking to understand. Being vulnerable is difficult as everyone has their own story. Having the space and capacity to reflect on this can be helpful, thus supporting us to understand our own secure bases as well as our own style and approach to leadership. Ultimately vulnerability in leadership leads to courage and connection and can open the door to creativity and hope.

Photo of Woman Walking On Grass

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They are compassionate because their boundaries keep them
out of resentment”

Brene Brown

Wild heart speaks to creativity, courage and authenticity. To be led by compassion in your interactions, using intuition and connection to make decisions that are reflective and balanced. The wild heart is embracing the self, accepting you can be both strong and courageous and vulnerable and soft. When we integrate and accept this approach we are showing up as the most authentic version of ourselves. This lays the foundation for connection, safety and potential for a team to grow and develop and create true belonging. It gives us more confidence in leading and to build our own potential through taking risks and new opportunities both as an individual leader and leading the collective.

This can often produce a collective effervescence, as this shared meaning can result in the feeling of convergence and alignment in emotional response in the work that increases the wellbeing and empowerment of the team.

True belonging therefore is what we are creating as a team, with everyone bringing themselves to the table with strong backs, soft fronts and wild hearts.

Authored by Tamara O’Sullivan

To explore more about these concepts join us at our Trauma Responsive Leadership Training.

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Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service1300 657 380
National Counselling and Referral Service (Disability)1800 421 468