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Embrace the suck: Lessons on how to rumble with vulnerability

Training mental health care providers to take care of their own mental health needs can be a big hurdle. One leadership coach teaches to start with courage — and to be OK with the hard parts.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 5:00 a.m. June 3, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
ViDL Work presented the Dare to Lead curriculum to about 230 Centerstone employees in Fort Myers and Bradenton.
ViDL Work presented the Dare to Lead curriculum to about 230 Centerstone employees in Fort Myers and Bradenton.
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  • Manatee-Sarasota
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In 20 years of working in the mental health field, first as a therapist and counselor and more recently as supervisor, manager and department head, Jane Roseboro has been to a lot of training conferences. 

Not all the sessions have been memorable or delivered long-lasting takeaways, concedes Roseboro, a vice president at Centerstone Bradenton. The hospital and addiction center, formerly known as Manatee Glens, is one of the largest mental health providers in the region. It’s part of Tennessee-based Centerstone, a nonprofit health system specializing in mental health and substance abuse for people of all ages.

But a recent program Roseboro completed, based on the 2018 Brene Brown book “Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts” was an outlier. The takeaways were so valuable they are on a notecard with summaries she keeps on her desk months later. The card, Roseboro read on a recent virtual interview, includes these reminders: I will stay curious; assume the best; stay present; manage my energy and find accountability.

Jane Roseboro
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The memorable Dare to Lead training came courtesy of Natalie Johnson and her team at the company she co-founded, Sarasota based ViDL Work. (That team includes co-founder Rebecca Johnson; the Johnsons aren’t related.) ViDL has worked with a wide range of clients, from Marriott to Manatee County, on a variety of customizable training sessions with company culture at the center. With more than 30 years of teaching, training, coaching and consulting on a variety of leadership performance programs, Natalie Johnson, meanwhile, is personally certified by Brown to facilitate the leadership consultant’s customizable Dare to Lead program.

That work, in part, is what connected Johnson and Roseboro. The Centerstone vice president says she’s a big fan of Brown’s books and sought to bring that training to the rest of the organization. She Googled Dare to Lead facilitators and found Johnson, who had actually done work in wellness and other training at the organization several years ago, when it was Manatee Glens.

“So much of our training is technical skills, like you need to do this when this happens,” Roseboro says. “But this was a great opportunity to build those soft skills to be able to support staff better.”

The opportunity became better than even Roseboro thought it would be when Centerstone hired ViDL Work. The original idea, says Johnson, was to work with the Centerstone executive leadership team specifically on a part of the Brown curriculum known as courage training. ViDL did that and kept going and going, and three years later it’s still doing work for the organization, at all levels, in Bradenton and Fort Myers. In total ViDL delivered the training to some 230 employees, including 65 supervisors.

“They are prioritizing their own mental health to serve the mental health in our community,” Johnson says. “It’s been a huge financial and time investment for them, and they’ve been committed to learning and sustaining their new courageous behaviors.”

Be brave

There are four skill sets of courage, says Johnson, in Dare to Lead. She spoke about those skill sets in a Sarasota Chamber of Commerce keynote presentation in early 2022, and has also spent years refining and teaching them. The highlights: 

Natalie Johnson
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  • Rumbling with vulnerability: This skill, says Johnson, is showing up even when the outcome of a given situation is in doubt and/or “you have no control over what other people say or think about you.” In Brown and Johnson’s work they often cite “the arena,” a nod to the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote about putting yourself out there, “the man in the arena.” Adds Johnson in one of ViDL’s Dare to Lead workbooks: “You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability.” So, she adds, “embrace the suck.”
  • Living into our values: Johnson says find two values most important to you, “that help you find your way when things are difficult, that fill you with a feeling of purpose.” To choose those values ask yourself these questions: Does this define me? Is this who I am? Is this a filter I use to make hard decisions? 
  • BRAVING trust: In this curriculum the word Braving is an acronym: Boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault, integrity, non-judgement and generosity. Taken in total, Johnson says, these seven concepts can lead to more meaningful conversions, especially in dealing with conflict or challenging situations. 
  • Learning to rise: The fourth skill, says Johnson, is where you learn to rise from falls, overcome mistakes “and face hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness.” The first step is to recognize emotions and “get curious about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave.” Up next is to “get honest about the stories we are making up about our struggle, then challenge these assumptions to determine what’s truth, what’s self-protection and what needs to change.” The last step of this skill, according to Johnson’s Dare to Lead curriculum, is when “process becomes practice.” 

Comfort zone

Johnson, in a recent virtual interview, says a challenge in teaching this curriculum with behavioral health professionals is “they immediately default to ‘this is going to be really helpful with the clients I'm working with and the people I serve in the community.' And certainly that's really powerful, and true, it will help with that.

“But we have to back them up a little bit and think about OK, but how would you use the same skills with your boss? How would you use the same skills with a colleague who is really irritating you? How do you use the same skills to create trust and connection with a person on your team you don't currently trust?”

Charles Whitfield
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Roseboro agrees that in mental health “sometimes we're so focused on other people's feelings that some of us have a really difficult time having difficult conversations.” To that end a big takeaway from the training for Roseboro, in addition to the notecard on her desk, is it’s actually a kind of kindness to have a difficult conversation with someone — not avoid it. “That's really empowering yourself,” she says, “and also the person who you're having a conversation with.”

Charles Whitfield, another vice president at Centerstone who went through the Dare to Lead training, says he especially appreciated the nudges to get out of his comfort zone, like in public speaking, for one. “This class has helped me get a little more comfortable being in that arena,” he says, using the metaphor for courage. "And being able to take whatever comes out of that arena and know that it's gonna be OK.”



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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