Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown. Random House. 293 pages. 2018.
Brené Brown is a best-selling author, speaker and research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent twenty years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, and recently completed a seven-year study on brave leadership. The goal of Dare to Lead is to take what she has learned through her research and experiences inside hundreds of organizations to provide a practical, actionable book about what it takes to be a daring leader.
This is the first book I have read by Brown. It covers aspects of leadership that you won’t find in most other books on leadership such as vulnerability, shame and empathy. She includes helpful personal stories as well as stories and case studies from others who have used her daring leadership principles. As a caution, she sprinkles adult language throughout the book. She also uses terms that you might not be familiar with, such as rumble, armored leadership, grounded confidence, positive intent, confabulation, to list but a few, and quotes liberally from her other books. There is a Dare to Lead hub on brenebrown.com where you can find resources including a free downloadable workbook so that you can put the book further into action as you read.
Brown defines a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential. She writes that we desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.
In addition to courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, other aspects of leadership that are covered in the book are trust, feedback (giving and receiving), setting boundaries, perfectionism, armored leadership, criticism, cover-ups, inclusion, curiosity, values, holding ourselves and others accountable, and integrity.
Boiling down everything she’s learned from her leadership research; the author shares these three things:
- The level of collective courage in an organization is the absolute best predictor of that organization’s ability to be successful in terms of its culture, to develop leaders, and to meet its mission.
- The greatest challenge in developing brave leaders is helping them acknowledge and answer their personal call to courage.
- We fail the minute we let someone else define success for us.
There is much to digest in this book. After reading it once, I know it would be helpful to read and discuss with other leaders, using some of the resources the author provides on her website.
Below are 35 takeaways I had from the book:
- At the heart of daring leadership is a deeply human truth that is rarely acknowledged, especially at work: Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive.
- Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.
- The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear.
- Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.
- We need to trust to be vulnerable, and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust.
- Trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.
- Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.
- Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
- Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.
- Daring leadership is ultimately about serving other people, not ourselves. That’s why we choose courage.
- Shame is the feeling that washes over us and makes us feel so flawed that we question whether we’re worthy of love, belonging, and connection.
- Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.
- Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement.
- Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame.
- Criticism often arises from fear or feelings of unworthiness. Criticism shifts the spotlight off us and onto someone or something else. Suddenly we feel safer. And better than.
- If you find yourself leading a team or culture in which criticism outweighs contribution, make a conscious and resolute decision to stop rewarding the former.
- We want people to share our commitment to purpose and mission, not to comply because they’re afraid not to. That’s exhausting and unsustainable for everyone.
- Leaders who work from compliance constantly feel disappointed and resentful, and their teams feel scrutinized.
- If we want to live a life of meaning and contribution, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play. We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one.
- Leaders need to model appropriate boundaries by shutting off email at a reasonable time and focusing on themselves and their family.
- Daring leaders fight for the inclusion of all people, opinions, and perspectives because that makes us all better and stronger.
- In a daring leadership role, it’s time to lift up our teams and help them shine.
- If shame and blame is our management style, or if it’s a pervasive cultural norm, we can’t ask people to be vulnerable or brave.
- Shame drives two tapes: Never good enough. Who do you think you are?
- Where shame exists, empathy is almost always absent. That’s what makes shame dangerous.
- Empathy isn’t about fixing, it’s the brave choice to be with someone in their darkness—not to race to turn on the light so we feel better.
- It’s only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued that we can start to get a full picture of the world, who we serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are.
- Empathy is feeling with people. Sympathy is feeling for them. Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.
- Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them.
- Only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold them accountable. Giving productive and respectful feedback is a skill set that most of us have never learned.
- Sharing values is a massive trust and connection builder for teams.
- Daring leaders work from the assumption that people are doing the best they can; leaders struggling with ego, armor, and/or a lack of skills do not make that assumption.
- If we want to be values-driven, we have to operationalize our values into behaviors and skills that are teachable and observable. And we have to do the difficult work of holding ourselves and others accountable for showing up in a way aligned with those values.
- Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values, not just professing them.
- When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And when we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks, and hurt—they own us.