Leading from Vulnerability and Authenticity: Center for Positive Organizations Consortium Webinar with Jim Hume, Phire Branding

February 14, 2022

By: Dylan Wheatley

“Vulnerability is truly scary,” Jim Hume, Founder and Principal of Phire Branding, shared at the Center for Positive Organization’s Consortium. While Jim was here to talk about his experience leading an organization positively, his personal story to why he transformed his leadership style was the catalyst to bringing more authenticity into his business. Jim has MS. MS or Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system; common symptoms include the losing the ability to walk, having tremors, etc. There is currently no cure to this disease.[1] He describes hiking with his family one day when he lost control of his legs. Jim’s diagnosis was grim: the doctors told him to avoid making long-term plan and to think about transitioning out of work in five years. Jim recalls returning to work following the bad news not knowing how to address employees. Would they leave with all the uncertainty?

What happened next revealed the true power authenticity has. Jim opted to be his authentic self; he shared his diagnosis with the team, citing lots of emotion and tears along the way. Jim’s willingness to open up assuaged all his fears. To this date, not one person at the table that day has left Phire.

Jim found this moment to be transformative. After this transformative experience, Jim committed to building an organization that practiced the vulnerability and authentic he demonstrated: he built out a new set of internal values, stood up sounding board committees, and even changed his client facing branding strategy to align.

Creating New Values

Jim set out to create a set of new values for the team, thinking about how to go from, what he called, “the freight train churning ahead” model to growth through authenticity and vulnerability. Their new values directed employees to: Be bold, Be curious, Be determined, Be human, and Be real—with an emphasis on the latter two.

Creating Buy In

Employees—in Jim’s eyes—are “keepers of the culture”; they not only needed to buy in but add to it. Seeing a need to create space for this to occur, Jim stood up committees segmented by business aspects including a culture committee. In conjunction with these committees, Phire introduced cultural elements such as scheduling coffee chats or one-on-ones focusing on non-work-related material. Another element created to “keep the culture” was a “kudos” board, a place to house team accomplishments and celebrate new hire milestones. Through these cultural elements Phire was able to create a space for employees to engage and feel heard

Aligning Brand Philosophy

Values and committees are indeed transformative, but the key to authenticity is practicing what you preach. Jim spoke the old branding agency model promotes manipulation to tell a perfect story.  Recognizing the dissonance between traditional branding goals and Phire’s new culture, Jim changed Phire’s branding philosophy to aligning Phire’s clients to market their authentic selves. Jim cited action as the medium to substantiating authenticity as a part of culture. Here, Jim was able to practice that, demonstrate this was more than buzz words; it was a philosophy.

What may have started as sobering reality for Jim quickly evolved into significant, positive cultural changes all by channeling vulnerability and authenticity. Hopefully, Jim’s takeaways can guide your organization to valuing or valuing a little more authenticity and vulnerability.

[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269

About Riverbank

This story is a collaboration between the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) and Riverbank Consulting Group, whose purpose is to energize and engineer organizations to unleash potential. It is based on a webinar presented to members of their Positive Organizations Consortium.