What exactly is Brené Brown’s relationship with the Landmark Forum – and Lululemon?
Be forewarned: a touch lengthy.
Watching Brené Brown’s 60 Minutes interview last week, I was reminded of some of the misgivings I’ve previously had about her: the anecdotal winning out over the scientific; the pre-emptive lashings-out at critics “not in the arena;” the sketchy speaking engagements at the likes of the World Domination Summit, run by pop-psych multi-level marketer Chris Guillebeau. I could go on.
But really, I was first and foremost reminded of Brown’s curious ties to Lululemon and its owner, Chip Wilson -- perhaps Landmark’s biggest spokesperson. Everyone here in Canada knows someone who works or has worked for Lululemon, and that in order to work there one is strongly encouraged to (i.e. must) participate in Landmark and read Brené Brown, among others.
Fine, so she’s the recommended/mandatory reading, you say. So what? Well, within that very same reading (“Daring Greatly”) Brown just so happens to single out Lulu for praise:
Another great example of the power of vulnerability -- this time in a corporation -- is the leadership approach taken by Lululemon’s CEO, Christine Day. In a video interview with CNN Money, Day explained that she was once a very bright, smart executive who “majored in being right.” Her transformation came when she realized that getting people to engage and take ownership wasn’t about “the telling” but about letting them come into the idea in a purpose-led way, and that her job was creating the space for others to perform. She characterized this change as the shift from “having the best idea or problem solving” to “being the best leader of people.” The shift she described is the shift from controlling to engaging with vulnerability -- taking risks and cultivating trust. And while vulnerability can sometimes make us feel powerless, her shift was a total power move. Day has increased the number of stores from 71 to 174, while total revenue has grown from $297 million to almost $1 billion, and Lululemon’s stock is up about 300 percent since its 2007 IPO.
There’s no way Brown was unaware of Lululemon’s Landmark affiliation –- a co-founder of Landmark, Rhoda Pitcher, had at that point been on the Lulu board since 2005, and Christine Day herself had admitted to the affliliaton in the media in 2009, years before Brown’s “Daring Greatly” came out:
“We feel like Landmark is a tool,” says Day, a 20-year Starbucks veteran who has attended Landmark training. “It’s created a culture of accountability.” On its Web site, Lululemon says the training program has been “such a success that the Lululemon people have created a life for themselves that most people could only dream of.”https://www.fastcompany.com/1208950/lululemons-cult-of-selling
Additionally, according to Brené Brown’s own C.V., she even did a “community engagement” speaking gig at Lululemon's HQ in Vancouver in 2012 before her book came out (https://www.uh.edu/socialwork/_docs/faculty-CVs/BrenéBrown_CV.pdf
). This is to reiterate: She surely knew what the company was about.
Christine Day later left Lulu after Chip Wilson’s various public faux pas, and Chip Wilson’s sister-in-law, Susan Conrad of Lightyear Leadership, seemingly became the main enforcer of the Landmark ethos via her “Director of Possibility” role. Regardless of the leadership changes, Chip Wilson and his company at large continue to make it a priority to promote Brené Brown:
Chip Wilson promoting “Daring Greatly” in 2018:
Starting off with a favourite from@BreneBrowne's Daring Greatly – "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” I believe that when we are vulnerable, we're at our most courageous. Every risk I’ve taken has opened doors to new possibilities. #Chips100Bookshttps://twitter.com/ChipYVR/status/1020655905728335873
And Lulu Store Ambassadors still promoting “Daring Greatly” in their bios, in chorus:
And on and on it goes, with Brown's “Dare to Lead” and “The Gifts of Imperfection” sometimes thrown in for good measure.
So one wonders: What is the symbiosis here between Landmark/Lululemon and Brown? Why was Brown shilling for Lululemon in her book (and speaking at their HQ), and why does Chip Wilson and his employees continue to shill for Brown? My theory: It’s become uncouth to mention Landmark outright. It’s fashionable and acceptable to mention Brené Brown. I believe that Lululemon instructs its employees to push Brown instead, knowing her leadership & lifstyle principles are in keeping with Landmark’s (hell, her Landmark-ian “Daring Greatly Manifesto” -- the centrepiece of her book -- is situated literally right next to her praise of Lulu). But what is her actual connection to Landmark, if there is one? Why does she seem to move in the same orbit as Landmark folk? Has she ever been asked outright if she attended the Forum (i.e. during her admitted "rough patch" in the mid-late 2000s?) or if it informs her work/she's a proponent? I find it all a hair too coincidental, if not collaborative.