Ground & Water, Director, Dipalee Jukes, grew up believing that perfection was everything and showing vulnerability was never an option. She has spent much of her career to-date, working as an engineer investigating ground and contaminated land. Now she jointly leads Ground & Water with Fran Williams. Their motto is “business for good” and Dipalee is responsible for making their company the best it can be. In doing this she has faced one of her biggest challenges.
Dipalee explains why.
‘Brené Brown is an American professor, lecturer, author and podcast host. She has spent her career studying the concepts of courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy; and has written five New York Times best-sellers. Brené says, “we tend to numb vulnerability in order to deal with it”. She goes onto say that we live in a vulnerable world; therefore we cannot selectively numb emotion.
‘In the workplace, vulnerability includes asking for help, standing up for others, saying no, trying something new, sharing an idea or creation, or admitting to being scared. Many people tend to sweep these issues under the carpet for fear of discrimination and feelings of shame or embarrassment.
“Performance for me, was about perfection”
‘As a leader in my own business, embracing my own vulnerability and revealing it to my team did not come easily to me. Growing up as a first-generation British Indian, there were always high expectations on the academic and career front from my hard-working parents. They had come to the UK with nothing. They grafted hard and sacrificed a lot, to give their children a brighter future and we could not let them down. Therefore, showing any kind of vulnerability, asking for help, expressing my own struggles, making mistakes was simply not an option. It made me believe performance was about perfection.
‘We all want to be good leaders at work and in other aspects of our lives. People’s perception of a great leader is that they are typically the most confident, strongest, most compelling person in the room, and they should have all the answers. We have all heard the saying, “the boss is always right”! Anything less would be perceived as weakness; a belief I once held.
‘What I’ve discovered is that leaders can be courageous, strong and respected, by expressing their emotions, going out of their comfort zones by showing vulnerability, admitting they don’t always know the answer, discussing their fears and being uncertain about what will happen next. I continue to learn these lessons and practice them every day.’
So how can we change the paradigm about vulnerability being inappropriate at our workplaces?
‘Ground & Water encourages a culture of openness, reflecting a lot on what did not go right and how we can improve for next time. Admitting failures can reveal vulnerabilities, which lead to self-awareness and self-awareness in turn, is key to transformation.
‘Organisations that deny their vulnerability can end up creating a culture of blame, that leaves them and their teams, drained of energy and enthusiasm. By letting yourself be deeply seen, vulnerably seen, practising gratitude, and trusting each other, you can embrace vulnerability and use it as a force for good.’
‘By allowing yourself to show your true authentic self to your team, you stop wasting energy protecting yourself from what you think other people shouldn’t see. By sharing your thoughts and emotions, leaning into vulnerability, you can have deeper, more meaningful relationships and human connections with your peers. At Ground & Water, we encourage admitting and owning our mistakes, learning from them, being held accountable and giving real, honest and constructive feedback to others to positively impact the workplace. We do not work in silos but as a team, asking each other for help and accepting we do not have all the answers, even the Directors!
‘It is within this circle of safety that trust is formed, and your best work is carried out. As a team, you can wholly rely on each other and draw from each other’s strengths, ideas and diverse perspectives. It is only when you work hard on being your best self, that you can be your true authentic self and work with a team striving towards the same goals.
‘As we continue to navigate through this global pandemic and find the best way forward without any certainty of knowing what the future holds; we must embrace this uncertainty and lean into vulnerability to find our strength.
‘What I do know, is that the culture of openness and trust we have at Ground & Water will allow us to have an engaged and motivated team, which is invaluable in any business, especially as we navigate through today’s tough economic landscape.