Brené Brown — Dare To Lead Book Review & Key Takeaways
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, specializing in courage and empathy research. In her award-winning book Dare To Lead, Brené Brown depicts how you can find the inner courage to lead a greater team. Here are my key takeaways from Dare To Lead that can help you become a more daring leader.
The ability for leaders to rumble with vulnerability and embrace courageous conversations are much needed ones, now even more than ever.
In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown, renowned for her research on courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, challenge us to help cultivate brave leaders who will humanize work. That’s the type of future leaders that organizations will need to navigate the political realities, digital transformation and speed of change that organizations face.
In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown has created a handbook for anyone who wants to learn how to be an authentic, empathetic, and courageous leader.
A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding potential in people and processes, having the courage to develop that potential. Conversely, learning to live with more courage and vulnerability can help you live up to your true potential, and take you down paths you never could have imagined otherwise.
Daring leadership is a collection of skill sets and behaviors that are 100% teachable.
It’s learning and practice that requires brave work, tough conversations, and showing up with our whole hearts. I’m the first one to say that this all sounds a bit soft and fluffy, but it’s actually quite confronting and difficult to do all of the above and I’ve found in my workplace, 100% worth the effort.
Dare to lead is for everyone, not just those who have been designated as leaders because all of the key takeaways are universal.
Engraving on Brené’s own experiences as a leadership coach, as well as recent research, this book review explores how you can harness your emotions, defeat your fear of failure and become a daring leader in an increasingly competitive world. Here are my book review and key takeaways of Dare To Lead, from Brené Brown.
Rumbling with Vulnerability
Brené Brown has spoken with thousands of leaders through her work as a researcher. Even the toughest among them eventually admitted that, indeed, acts of courage were always accompanied by the feeling of vulnerability. Vulnerability is actually a sign of strength.
The truth is whenever we choose courage, we also choose vulnerability.
Because that’s precisely what courage is about: acting in spite of fear, uncertainty, and potential danger. That’s why Brené Brown is so adamant that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Embracing vulnerability is a leadership skill that separates the wheat from the chaff. It is what makes the difference.
Far from being weak, vulnerability is a vital asset for growth.
Feeling vulnerable is a common human emotion felt during times of uncertainty as well as when we open ourselves up to others but it’s not anything to be ashamed of. Rather than thinking of vulnerability as a weakness and allowing the feelings of self-protection to take over, the key is to think of vulnerability as being an asset.
Being vulnerable means being honest about what you’re going through in work and life, and communicating that to your team.
Now, it doesn’t mean going into details about every aspect of your life with your team members. But it does mean addressing issues in an open way. For example, if your team is struggling to meet numbers and you have to increase performance by the end of the year, you could address your team by saying: This is really hard, and I’m not sure how we are going to achieve this goal. But I believe in us, and have faith that we will be able to work together to come up with a plan that will lead us to being successful.
We are not robots for whom emotion exists outside of work, we feel and experience those feelings whether we’re at work or not.
Vulnerability is not a weakness although it feels scary and confronting — letting people know that you have feelings and fears like everyone else can be powerful and relatable. Instead of others viewing you as weak, they can see you as more human, approachable and accepting or them, their ideas and backgrounds. When people feel truly accepted for who they are, they can give you their all.
Being vulnerable is paramount to our creativity, our health, our relationships, and our growth.
Unfortunately, due to our Western culture believing that being vulnerable means being weak, most of us struggle to embrace (what we perceive as) failure, learn from it, and use it as a stepping stone to success. Our ego will, indeed, do anything it can to minimize the inner discomfort that comes with rumbling with vulnerability. What will people think?
Therefore, if you are choosing to be a courageous or brave leader, you have to choose to be a vulnerable leader.
If you build a culture where vulnerability is seen as a weakness, don’t ask people to innovate, because innovation by its nature requires failure to learn and move forward. Courage is contagious. To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, you have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.
Living Into Our Values
More often than not, our values are what lead us to do uncomfortable, daring things. We also need our values to remind us why we entered a new arena. Daring leaders carry ‘clarity of values’ with them. These values are principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.
One factor Brené Brown determined as incredibly beneficial to good leadership is having clarity about your values.
Values are the human ideals we consider as most important in our lives. Some examples of values are courage, freedom, justice, kindness, discipline, family, and honesty. People who know what their values are have an easier time dealing with adversity. They can let their values guide them. They’re something to hold on to in dark and difficult times. They allow you to be resilient and do what’s necessary.
Our values determine our decisions about what is most valuable in our lives.
The bravest leaders that Brené Brown came across during her study had the most accuracy around their values. During times of change and vulnerability, their values were crucial to support them, a ‘North Star’ that helped lead them through years of darkness. They were also willing to take risks, confident in knowing that their values would guide them through without compromising their integrity.
The strength to carry on, try again, and face the office the following day comes not just from grit and determination but from your core values.
The most successful and courageous leaders are risk-takers who are clear about their values, these values acting as a ‘guiding light’ during dark difficult times. Leading a team into bold new ways of thinking can feel overwhelming, especially when intentions aren’t as clear as they could be. For these unfamiliar initiatives, consider defining the overall intention with assigned values to create a shared purpose.
Make a list of your core values and then highlight the two that are the most important to you.
Two is the magic number due to Brené discovering that leaders with 10 or more values were less able to demonstrate vulnerability and courage due to feeling overwhelmed on what action to take, none of the core values being the driving force of their behavior and just a bunch of words written down that made them feel good.
With clear values to follow, it is easier to navigate tricky situations. They offer a clearer route for you to take.
It can take some time to figure out your core values but once you have defined them you will find it easier to find your way in the dark. Speaking of actions, once you’ve identified your core values, you need to find ways to translate them into behaviors. You need to choose specific practices that embody the values you set and help you show up for your team members in the best way. Use your core values to onboard people. Use them to hold people accountable.
Trust is the glue that holds teams and organizations together. Many successful organizations regard it as a ‘must-have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’. People who are trustworthy respect boundaries, are reliable and are accountable for their actions. They do not share information that is not theirs to share and they choose to do the right thing.
Perhaps the biggest gap in failed leadership is trust.
However, gaining someone’s trust doesn’t happen overnight. Many examples of trust-building scenarios are commonly mistaken as “weak” or “shameful”, but are often the most vulnerable or courageous moments, like admitting when you don’t know something, owning up to mistakes, asking for help or support, setting boundaries and knowing when to say no, operating with humility, and most importantly, choosing courage over comfort.
Trust is a fundamental and multifaceted highlight to our performance relations.
First, though, we need to ask ourselves: What does the idea of trust mean? The author’s researchers’ team has pinpointed seven diverse attitudes that encourage confidence expressed as BRAVING. We can use BRAVING in a useful way to record strengths and areas for improvement in working relationships with subordinates. We see trust being built all the time when individuals from different functions come together and rely on the knowledge and support of conflicting perspectives.
According to Brené Brown, the top trust-building behavior is asking for help.
We have a tendency to trust people who seek help. But trust can also be built by demonstrating reliability and accountability. It also means showing generosity, which in this instance can be shown by assuming the best about people’s intent, motivation and behavior.
We all consider ourselves trustworthy people, yet we only confide in a small, carefully crafted selection of others.
Trustworthy people avoid judging others and are generous when interpreting the actions of others. Trust is built in small moments, not blanket statements or grand actions. Being a trusted leader means regularly checking your actions and asking yourself if they meet the right standards.
To create trust in all your relationships, remember the acronym BRAVING.
Learning to Rise
To succeed as Daring Leaders, we must build the skills to get back up when we fall (Learning to Rise), because all Daring Leaders are going to fall. In this chapter, Brené Brown emphasizes the importance of resilience and learning to rise when something doesn’t go according to plan.
Believe it or not, many leaders could learn a lot from skydivers.
Before skydivers are allowed to hit the skies, they consume various coaching sessions learning how to hit the floor by slightly jumping off ladders carefully. Here is where leaders should take notes. If you’re going to be courageous, then it’s best to prepare yourself for a rough landing. In other terms, you need to ascertain how to be flexible.
Leaders can’t expect people to be brave and risk failure if they’re not prepped for hard landings.
Teaching resilience early on, during an onboarding process, means that employees are going to be more confident, courageous, and therefore, more successful due to knowing that failures are normal but that they can handle and bounce back from any setbacks they encounter. Rather than worrying that you’re teaching employees to have low expectations due to a ‘you will fail’ attitude, know that resilience training is not about setting someone up to fail but about setting them up for bravery.
In the absence of data, people tend to speculate and make up stories to fill in the blanks. Those stories usually reflect our personal fears.
The most resilient people learn to ask themselves whether, for example, a perceived slight by their boss is actually the result of something they did — or something else that affected their boss that day. They have to learn how to pick themselves back up and move on. When you’re learning to rise, you pay attention to your thoughts and get curious about them. You follow up on your ‘story’ and find out the real truth. Then you address the truth and practice staying calm in your response.
The Reckoning stage is when you recognize that you are emotionally hooked and begin to get curious about something.
More often than not, these are strong emotions of anger, blame, or fear. As a result of this revelation, and because we’re human, we tend to make up false stories in the absence of data. This rumble is a cue for knowing a real conversation needs to happen, even if it’s tough.
The Revolution stage is both a rebellion and an indicator of success.
It is the level of collective courage within an organization. By developing leaders and helping them recognize and answer their personal call to courage, we are scaling the most powerful tool there is all while encouraging brave work governed by whole hearts. It’s doing the work and carrying out the other practices outlined above to revolutionize our leadership methods.
Finding The Truth
All leaders should be honest and clear in their daily communications whether at work or at home but unfortunately, it’s something that many of us shy away from, not wanting to upset or anger the other person or make ourselves feel uncomfortable.
One important insight has to do with the importance of being clear with people.
Too often we tell people half-truths or we gently step around an important issue because we’re trying to be nice. Or, we do it because the conversation is hard and we’re trying to make ourselves or the other person more comfortable. But when we’re not clear, we do everyone a disservice. When you’re clear with someone else, there’s no guessing at what’s left unsaid.
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
By avoiding confrontational yet honest conversations, we’re reducing productivity and setting the other person up for failure since we usually blame and resent people for not delivering later down the line despite us having never told them clearly and concisely what we want of them.
Empathy can be one of the best and most effective connection and trust building tools we have for engaging in daring leadership.
Empathy is saying, “I know that feeling and it sucks”, or “You’re not alone”. It doesn’t mean trying to immediately solve someone’s problems, but instead letting your colleague know you understand what they are going through. You don’t have to have been through a certain experience to understand what the emotion feels like. All you have to do is identify a situation where you may have felt the same way. Brené Brown acknowledges that it is impossible to see things as others do, but you can validate it as truth, and also communicate that you understand.
When someone on your team provides constructive criticism or points out one of your weaknesses, let it sink in.
Be curious instead of shutting down. Confront the difficult conversation about how your behavior hinders the team and how you can do better. A good leader recognizes his or her own weakness. A daring leader digs deeper to uncover the “why” behind the flaw, listens to feedback from the team, and works to understand how it affects the organization.
As well as being clear, leaders also need to spend a significant amount of time discussing fears and feelings with their team and truly listening to the feedback they give.
In order to get the truth from people rather than just what you want to hear / what they think you want to hear, you need to keep quiet as much as possible, leaving the other person with enough time to speak. A little silence goes a long way as it will make them feel uncomfortable enough to want to fill that silence with their true thoughts on the matter. As they speak, allow some time to ponder the subject before jumping to an answer.
Less Than Perfect
Right from childhood, we seek to shield ourselves from vulnerable feelings like disappointment, hurt, and diminishment. By building a wall out of our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, we protect ourselves from the big imperfect world.
But to live and lead with courage, we must let ourselves be vulnerable, as we already know.
It means letting down our walls and recognizing protective thoughts and behaviors for the defense mechanisms they are. One of the most pervasive types of self-protection is perfectionism. To become daring leaders, we must rid ourselves of perfectionism. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re not courageous.
Perhaps the most damaging myth of all is that perfectionism is about self-improvement and striving for excellence.
But in fact, perfectionism is really about attempting to win approval. Most perfectionists were born in environments that praise their exceptional performance, for example, in sports or school. As a result, perfectionists develop a damaging belief system that follows them into their adult lives, anchoring their whole sense of self in accomplishments and brilliant execution.
Perfectionism is an unattainable goal.
It’s more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy is spent trying. Actually, it is addictive, because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to look and do everything just right.
Perfectionism is like a parasite that lingers in the back of your mind.
Once it settles in, you fixate on what you could be doing better, or what you are not doing well enough in. People with perfectionism struggle to make decisions because they are scared of making a wrong choice. I find myself being indecisive at times and I realized that this is because of my perfectionist mentality. Indecision is the other side of the coin of perfectionism. Perfectionism stops you from taking risks and pushing ourselves to our full potential.
Perfectionism means being terrified of shame.
Perfectionism means being stuck in vast deserts of silence, ashamed of our dark sides, when it is ordinary to have a dark side. One of the hardest things about being human is learning to live with our humanity. Fighting perfectionism means letting go of who you wish you were and being who you are.
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.
Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight. Living in a society that floods us with unattainable expectations around every topic imaginable, putting down the perfection shield is scary. Finding the courage to move from “What will people think?” to “I am enough,” is the key.
Thanks to Brené and her work, I’m more conscious than ever of the power of vulnerability in leadership and life. I’m aware of my own tendencies and can notice patterns of defensive behavior in others, which helps me to understand their reactions and respond in a disarming way. I know what I need to work on, and I’ve identified my core values to help guide the direction.
To become a daring leader, take off the armor of perfectionism and jump into the fray of life.
Leaders who armor themselves with perfectionism often assume that this way of thinking will bring them success. They couldn’t be more wrong because there is a much darker side to perfectionism, going way beyond the need to please. You might make mistakes in the process, but you’ll gain something valuable in exchange: the courage to succeed and lead.
Vulnerability leads to courage and creativity.
Be brave enough to explore your feelings and the thoughts and feelings of those around you. Stop numbing your feelings of vulnerability with alcohol or food and get to the root of the cause so that you can fix it… Dare to lead!
This book is quick to read, and jam-packed with tangible ways to lead daringly.
Forget about status and power games, instead, look to your values and emotions, and improve your interpersonal relationship skills with honesty, trust, and a huge helping of vulnerability.
The traditional idea of an all-knowing leader who rules through fear and never puts a foot wrong is dead in the water. Drop the armor, dare to lead!
The above takeaways are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the advice and information Brené Brown shares in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to grow their leadership skills. If you and your team read this book, I’d love to hear more about what conversations it sparks for you and your team. Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts with our fellow leaders in the comments below!