Life gets busy. Has Dare to Lead been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free to learn the juicy details.
Brené Brown is a researcher who has spent over two decades studying vulnerability and shame. She has 6 books that made it to the New York Times Best Seller’s list, as well as 2 award-winning podcasts, and a new series on HBO.
She’s also worked directly with companies to develop strategies for bolder, more innovative, and more inclusive workspaces.
From that work, several key insights were developed that she outlines in her book Dare To Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
These approaches have been tested in over 50 organizations with approximately 10,000 individuals. This includes The Gate Foundation, Shell, multiple branches of the U.S. Military, as well as Fortune 50 companies and small family-owned businesses.
Brené Brown’s goal in writing Dare to Lead was to take these insights and create an actionable book. One that could be read cover to cover on a flight “from New York to LA, with perhaps a short delay.”
But we’ve distilled that down to 10 Key Insights to help you become and braver leader and foster a culture of courage in your team.
StoryShot #1: Ten Behaviors That Get in the Way of Building a Culture of Courageous Leadership
It can be difficult to put into words the certain je ne sais quoi that great and daring leaders have. As many of us know, it’s much easier to see the things that don’t work, and get in the way of building a culture of courage in the workplace.
Dr. Brown starts by outlining the 10 most common behaviors she’s seen in the research.
1. Avoiding tough conversations or giving honest feedback.
2. Not addressing the fears before making major changes.
3. A lack of connection and empathy that builds a loss of trust.
4. Punishing failure or putting down new ideas which leads to a lack of innovation.
5. Focusing on staff internally after setbacks and failures. When instead focus is better placed externally on making things right with customers and stakeholders.
6. “Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning.”
7. Putting off important conversations on diversity and inclusion because you’re afraid of “getting it wrong.”
8. Rushing into a solution rather than staying with the problem until a sustainable solution is achieved.
9. Having organizational values that are flimsy and not measurable or actionable.
10. Getting stuck on “perfect” and being afraid to learn and grow.
StoryShot #2: “Clear Is Kind, Unclear Is Unkind”
Often we don’t say exactly what we mean because we tell ourselves we are sparing the other’s feelings. When really we are avoiding the discomfort that comes with being honest.
No one wants to have to provide negative feedback, give investors bad news, or have to let someone go because they’re not meeting expectations. But “zigzagging” around difficult issues creates an environment of frustration and erodes trust.
People begin to question their contributions and lose engagement. This leads to passive-aggressive behavior, gossip, and back-channel communications, among other negative behaviors.
Being clear and direct feels difficult when you’re in the moment. Especially if you’re telling an employee they’re not meeting expectations, or even letting them go. But part of being an effective leader means being clear on where things are working and not working, and communicating that to your team.
This does not mean being “brutally honest” or unnecessarily curt. The best leaders know how to deliver difficult news with compassion. “This isn’t about avoiding hard decisions and hard conversations. It’s about knowing we all have hearts and can be hurt.”
StoryShot #3: Learn to “Rumble” Effectively
In the book, Dr. Brown defines the “rumble” as “a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving.”
Develop your rumbling skills and help you to be poised and lead your team through difficult situations.
When you are in the midst of a difficult rumble, take a deep breath and do the following.
First, get clear on how you are feeling, and what story you may be unconsciously telling yourself.
In the absence of data, we’ll always create a story. And the brain will reward you with a dopamine response for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the story you’ve told yourself is true.
This is what Dr. Brown refers to as the “Shitty First Draft” or “Stormy First Draft” when she’s working with kids. Getting clear on the SFD that you’re telling yourself before you act on it. And provide as much information as you can in difficult situations to avoid your team making up their own SFDs. Again, clear is kind.
Next, you need to get clear on what is really going on and what the other person and people are thinking and feeling. She outlines a list of questions that you can use to help get clear on the situation, some of which include:
What more do I need to learn or understand about the other people in this story? What questions for clarification might help? What more do I need to learn or understand about myself? What’s under this response? What am I actually feeling? What part did I play?
For a full list, check out her resources in the rumble workbook.
The important thing is that you stay curious and open. Stay with the problem, and give yourself and your team the opportunity to circle back if emotions are running too high.
StoryShot #4: Avoid “Cheap-Seat Criticism” and Form Your “Square Squad”
Throughout the book, Dr. Brown references the “man in the area” quote, given in a speech by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Following this metaphor, Brené Brown talks about the types of “spectators” in the arena. Among these spectators are the “cheap-seat critiques. These are the people who will never risk anything, and never put themselves or their ideas on the line. They won’t risk vulnerability but are quick to criticize and tear you down out of their own fears.
You should never take cheap-seat criticism. But it can be difficult to know the difference between feedback that is just hateful, and feedback constructive but difficult to hear.
What helps is getting clear on who’s opinions of you have value, and going to those people for helpful feedback.
Do this by forming your “square squad.” This is a list of people who care about you, and who you know are looking out for your best interests. These are people who love you despite your flaws, and you can trust them to give you honest feedback. They are not “yes men”—they’ll be square with you and are brave enough to tell you what you don’t want to hear.
Forming this core group will help you stay with criticism that hurts your ego but will help you grow.
StoryShot #5: Don’t Fall for the Vulnerability Myths
Many of us grew up in cultures rife with “myths” about vulnerability that caused us to avoid vulnerability. But “Shutting down vulnerability doesn’t protect us from shame, disconnection, and isolation. It guarantees them.”
Dr. Brown outlines the 6 main myths we tell ourselves about vulnerability, and why each of them falls flat.
1. “Vulnerability is weakness.”
Dr. Brown’s research includes interviews with members of the U.S. armed forces. Many of these individuals shared stories of being in life-threatening situations. Not one of them could say they’ve had an experience of courage that did not also include vulnerability. Courage and vulnerability go hand in hand.
2. “I don’t do vulnerability.”
The truth is, you “either do vulnerability, or it does you.” Ignoring your emotions and trying to “armor up” your weak points will cause you to make fear-based choices. Often these will be obvious to everyone else besides you and are not effective coping methods.
3. “I can go it alone.”
Humans are social creatures, and trying to get by without support from others leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
4. “You can engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability.”
There’s a difference between “systematic vulnerability” with “relational vulnerability.”
In many fields, it is essential to reduce, whenever possible, systematic vulnerability. For example, combat teams must reduce threats to their safety. Or aerospace engineers must reduce points of failure on their aircraft.
This is different than “relational vulnerability.” It’s important to embrace vulnerability when it comes to relationships between individuals. This is how people can feel more connected and supported.
5. “Trust comes before vulnerability”
How can you build trust without risking vulnerability? How can you risk vulnerability without first building trust?
People build trust in small ways over time, and it’s a matter of give-and-take. For example, if you notice your partner looks sad when you ask them what’s wrong, you are building trust. If instead, you go about your business because you “don’t want to deal” with their emotions at that moment, you’re missing an opportunity to connect.
Something as simple as remembering the names of family members or important dates for the other people can do a lot to show you care. These little moments of trust-building add up. And those in your life who have worked to build trust over time are the ones you can risk being vulnerable with.
That’s why it’s so important to actively work to build trust before crisis moments occur. A group that has already worked to build trust is much more resilient in the face of adversity.
6. “Vulnerability is disclosure.”
Vulnerability is not just sharing insecurities, fears, and personal information indiscriminately. In fact, sharing in such a way can sometimes serve just to soothe the person sharing and be manipulative and counterproductive.
Boundaries are necessary to create an environment of “psychological safety.” This way, people can feel comfortable enough to give and receive feedback. A positive example of this is acknowledging the difficulties the team is facing and asking, “What does support from me look like?”
StoryShot #6: Cultivate Curiosity and “Grounded Confidence”
One of the biggest threats to staying open and vulnerable is a lack of what’s referred to as “grounded confidence.” Grounded confidence is defined as “the messy process of learning and unlearning.”
To build grounded confidence, you must get comfortable with the uncomfortable. And you must learn to navigate situations with unclear or incomplete information. “Leadership,” Dr. Brown defines as, “the ability to thrive in the ambiguity of paradoxes and opposites.”
It’s a difficult skill, but daring leadership can be developed by staying curious.
For one, curiosity is good for our brain, helping us better learn and retain information. But staying curious can also help us avoid making unhelpful assumptions that lead to an unproductive solution.
The truth is, you will not and cannot know it all, and the drive to try and know it all is rooted in insecurity and an unwillingness to face vulnerability.
To practice staying curious, make a habit of asking questions like “I’m curious why did doesn’t work for you,” and “what assumptions are you working from?” And be prepared to share your own assumptions and answer questions in return.
StoryShot #7: Empathy Is Teachable
There is a tendency to think of empathy as a personality trait, that people either have or they don’t. But the truth is, the skills empathetic people have are quantifiable and can be taught and practiced.
First, learn to take perspective, and honor other people’s perspectives as truth, even if we can’t relate.
Second, be non-judgemental. This requires working on your self-awareness. Know when you’ll be most likely to judge. Usually, in the areas you’re most insecure about and susceptible to shame, you’re more likely to judge those who are doing worse than you in those areas.
Next, understand the other person’s feelings and effectively communicate your understanding of those feelings.
Emotional literacy is a prerequisite to empathy. Using phrases like “What I hear you saying is…” gives you the opportunity to have the other person talk about what they’re actually feeling.
Finally, practice mindfulness. Being able to stay in the moment will help you to support the other person without minimizing their experiences.
And remember, “In those bad moments, our job is not to make things better. Our job is to connect.” It’s not helpful to try and fix things for people going through a difficult time.
Sometimes it’s best to say, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.” Just letting the other person know they’ve been heard builds trust and fosters healing.
StoryShot #8: Acknowledge Shame and Learn Shame Resilience
Shame is the “never good enough” emotion, and is often referred to as the “master” emotion by psychologists. The truth is that everyone is afraid to talk about shame, even though it’s something we all experience. But not talking about it is what gives it power.
How do we combat this? Luckily, like empathy skills, shame resilience can also be learned.
This starts with recognizing the physical symptoms. How do you feel in your body? Is your heart racing? Are you getting tunnel vision, or starting to sweat?
Recognizing when you’re in shame can help you identify what your strategy is for disconnection. Do you isolate? Do you try to people please to regain approval? Do you lash out and try to shame others?
Once you have this awareness of yourself, reach out to a trusted member of your square squad. “Shame dies in the sunlight,” and you’re trusted confidant can assure you you are not alone.
How does shame play out at work? One of the biggest drivers of shame is the “fear of being irrelevant,” especially when major changes are being implemented. Again, this goes back to StoryShot #1 and the importance of addressing fears and feelings before implementing big changes.
Another driver of shame is “unwanted identity.” An unwanted identity is anything that “undermines our ideal visions of ourselves.” Being seen as unreliable, or even getting sick can have a major impact on how we view ourselves and contribute to feelings of shame.
StoryShot #9: Identify Your Values and Live Into Them
Oftentimes, organizational values are vague, feel-good words that don’t have any weight behind them. And on an individual level, not having clear values can make it difficult to see the right path when difficult situations arise.
If we don’t have clarity of values, the cynics and critics can bring us to our needs. We need to identify our values and create plans to put them into action.
First, figure out what your values are. Dr. Brown has compiled a list of values on her website.
Pick the two that you feel are most important. Resist picking ones that you were “coached” to believe you should strive for and find the ones that feel truly authentic to you. Start with 10 or 15 and narrow it down.
Next, find ways that you are going to put them into action. Everyone talks a big game when it comes to values, but few take it to the next level of creating a culture to hold each other accountable for that behavior.
Identify 3 or 4 behaviors that support your values. Then identify 3-4 “slippery behaviors” which are actions that are counter to your values that you often find yourself tempted to do. Share these values with your team so you all can hold each other accountable.
StoryShot #10: The BRAVING Inventory
We all want to believe we are trustworthy, yet find it difficult to trust others. This is because being able to trust means being willing to risk vulnerability.
Loss of trust leads to talking behind people’s backs and zigzagging. Trust is the glue that holds teams and organizations together.
But how do you build trust? Dr. Brown outlines the 7 things that build trust in what she calls the BRAVING Inventory. This list you can also find on her website, but we’ve included it here:
Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.
You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them.
I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
Following this inventory can help you to build trust, not just in the workplace, but in your personal life as well.
And most importantly, work to build trust early on. It’s not effective to try to teach resilience in the wake of a major setback, whether tensions are high and trust is already lost. It takes time, and cannot be built quickly in times of crisis.
Additionally, teaching these skills early on will result in a more innovative work environment. “If we don’t have the skills to get back up, we may never risk falling.”
Final Thoughts and Review
Dare to Lead is a concise and actionable collection of tactics you can implement to become a bolder leader. Brené Brown uses research to take the mystery out of what it takes to build courageous work environments. And she provides clear steps to building confidence in your ability to handle adversity and to motivate and inspire those around you.
Here’s a review of the key takeaways:
1. Ten Behaviors That Get in the Way of Building a Culture of Courageous Leadership
2. “Clear Is Kind, Unclear Is Unkind”
3. Learn to “Rumble” Effectively
4. Avoid “Cheap-Seat Criticism” and Form Your “Square Squad”
5. Don’t Fall for the Vulnerability Myths
6. Cultivate Curiosity and “Grounded Confidence”
7. Empathy Is Teachable
8. Acknowledge Shame and Learn Shame Resilience
9. Identify Your Values and Live Into Them
10. The BRAVING Inventory
There are also supplemental materials available on Dr. Brown’s website, including a workbook to follow along with the lessons outlined in the book.
The materials are free regardless of whether you buy the book. But the book goes deep into these lessons with anecdotes from Dr. Brown’s own experience, both personally and professionally. It also includes testimonials from individuals in the organizations she’s worked with.
These stories serve to drive home the message that at the center of this work is “people, people, people.” And to become a great leader, you have to get down to the human at the center.
So if you’ve got a long flight ahead of you, consider picking this one up. We rate it 4.5/5.