Dare to Lead is rich with leadership gold. The following list of one-liners gives a sample of the precious insights that dare us to lead:
“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind” (44).
“We can’t both serve people and try to control their feelings” (69).
“Whenever perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun” (79).
Convicted yet? Applying any of these concepts to leadership requires something of the leader: courage.
The author, Brené Brown, brings to the leadership community 20 years of professional research in the areas of courage, shame, vulnerability, and empathy. Brown’s research has found that courage is a collection of four skill sets that she summarizes as “rumbling with vulnerability,” “living into our values,” “braving trust,” and “learning to rise.” Her research supports an additional, very encouraging conclusion that these skill sets can be taught, observed, and measured (11). Those who dare to lead with the courage skill set of will see improved organizational health and positive culture change in the teams they lead.
All leaders experience difficult conversations and conflict. Brown has provided a helpful term for such moments: rumbling. Rumbling is not optional for leaders, but leaders have many options for how to do it. Brown suggests that leaders should do it with vulnerability. Rumbling with vulnerability embraces the humility of not being right for the reward of getting it right. The leader who is unwilling to lean into hard conversations with vulnerability will lead armored, disconnected, and weighed down with shame. And this is the culture they will set for the teams they lead.
Brown leads her readers through steps of brave leadership that include identifying values (187, 188) and behaving in line with those values (190–193). She focuses on an area where every leader is challenged to practice value-based behaviors: giving and receiving feedback. Leaders cannot avoid communicating and receiving difficult feedback. Leadership will benefit from being brave enough to give and receive feedback in a way that is in line with personal values.
Brown offers leaders a helpful perspective on trust and practical ways to build it and a gift to help them brave trust in the form of a practical tool called the BRAVING Inventory (225). She explores how many of our limitations are rooted in fear of failure. Then she offers an alternative mindset. Instead of being afraid to fall, we should get skilled at rising back up from a fall. If leaders can build this into their culture and teach people to rise, they will not be so afraid to fall. And they will try things that their fear never allowed them to try.
Brown casts the vision that “when we have the encouragement to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending” (240). She offers a grounding perspective on the inadequacy and superiority that threatens leadership. She reveals a most helpful truth when she says, “People think it’s a long walk from ‘I’m not enough’ to ‘I’m better than them,’ but it’s actually just standing still. In the exact same place. In fear” (52). Realizations like this display the great need for brave leadership.
I have to get really picky to identify ways that the value of this book could have been enhanced. The organization of the contents could have been improved for better flow. The writing style takes an intentional tone of vulnerability, which includes crude language that weakens the professional image of the content. For me, this tone distracts from the message. For some, it may strengthen the appeal to vulnerability.
I was just midway through the book when I tucked it under my arm and carried it with me into my church board meeting. The content had already become a supportive resource for my leadership. The research is credible. The conclusions are relevant. The communication is intensely practical and thoroughly actionable (4). And the closing appeal is a worthy dare to any leader: “Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid. At the exact same time” (272).