Dare to Lead – Book Summary
Dare to Lead – Brené Brown – Book Summary
Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts.
What’s it about?
Dare to Lead (2018) explores how to find the inner courage to lead a great team. Drawing on Brené Brown’s research and experience as a leadership coach, it shows how you can harness your emotions, quash your fear of failure, and become a daring leader in an increasingly competitive world.
About the author
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston whose work focuses on courage and empathy. Her 2012 book Daring Greatly was a New York Times best seller. Her TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” has over 30 million views and is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks of all time.
Who’s it for?
- Business psychology buffs seeking new insights
- Leaders searching for fresh ways to connect with their team
- Anyone trying to build their courage in the workplace
What’s in it for me? Learn how to lead with courage.
Across the world – from Argentina to Australia, Canada to Cambodia – there are managers, directors, and executives who all want to know the answer to one simple question: How do I become a better leader?
But, contrary to what you might think, the secret to great leadership isn’t about your position – or power. The key to really great leadership is vulnerability, speaking your truth, being courageous and sticking to your values.
In this Blink, we’re going to look at vulnerability in practical terms. We’ll discuss how you and your team can carve out time in your calendars to get vulnerable, and we’ll explore the importance of honing in on your values so that you can make decisions and perform day-to-day actions from a place of true conviction.
Begin your leadership journey by reframing your idea of vulnerability.
Let’s start by asking a bold question: What makes you feel vulnerable?
Even though vulnerability is a universal feeling that we all experience, we still sometimes associate it with “weakness” or feeling inadequate. We worry that admitting we don’t know all the answers will make look us stupid.
So rather than exposing ourselves to others and allowing for moments of genuine connection and problem-solving, we reach out for our “emotional armor,” we put it on, and we create barriers – between us and our coworkers, between us and the challenges we face, between us and our emotions, between us and true moments of understanding and connection with our team.
Far from being a weakness, practicing real vulnerability is a superpower. It will transform you from a mediocre leader into a great leader. And this is our first key message: being vulnerable is an act of courage.
It involves saying what’s on your mind and being honest with yourself and your team. The original word for courage comes from the Latin word cor, or “heart,” and it meant “to speak your mind by telling your heart.”
Vulnerability is your winning hand. It’s the cornerstone of human innovation and creativity, and it requires you to get open and comfortable with failure. More often than not, you’re going to need to fail multiple times before your team eventually lands on that one idea, that clear “aha” moment, that helps move everything forward.
How can you create moments for true vulnerability?
The second key idea in this Blink is that courageous leaders carve out time to talk from the heart by giving and soliciting honest feedback.
In the early days of building her company, Brené’s employees asked if they could sit down with her. They had concerns, and they wanted to share them with her. And so, being a courageous leader, Brené agreed. She sat down with her employees and was stunned to learn that they were struggling with the consequences of her unrealistic time management. Her team pointed out that she had an unhealthy habit of setting impossible deadlines, which they struggled to meet.
These criticisms were hard to hear. But Brené was grateful for the honest feedback. She knew that being clear is being kind. Because when we communicate with a spirit of clarity – both at home and in the workplace – we begin to create a culture of truth-seeking and truth-telling that is essential for growth and transformation.
Of course, we all want to grow and transform. But how many of us actually do this? The research shows that the majority of us avoid being clear when talking to others. We feel it’s kinder to avoid being honest. We also feel that it’s easier to avoid confrontation and conversation. These difficult chats can sometimes cost us personal and emotional energy. But what about the long-term cost of steering away from tricky conversations?
Ultimately, the longer we play the waiting game, the bigger the problem gets. Eventually, it becomes an insurmountable mountain of a problem; which we either die at the bottom of, or we’re forced to turn our back on it and we give up on the challenge all together.
So, just as Brené took the time out of her busy schedule to listen to her teams’ concerns, create weekly or biweekly check-ins with your team. Offer them the opportunity to relay any concerns or problems they might be experiencing.
The first step in solving any problem you might face is to get curious. Rather than simply apologizing to your team and then sweeping the problem under the carpet, really allow yourself to listen to your team. Probe the problem. You could say, “Hey, tell me more about how this plays out for you.” Or, “Hey, I want to understand how this feels for you.” If this sounds uncomfortable, you’re probably on the right track.
A good tip is to remember the 8-second rule. Extreme discomfort lasts no longer than 8 seconds; after that it gets easier. So sit tight and breathe through those opening, difficult 8 seconds. This is so much easier than having to deal with the long-term fractures that open up when we swipe problems away.
Another important thing to remember is that you don’t need to have the answers right away. Instead, start by showing your team that you’re committed to finding the answers. Explain that you need time to investigate the problem properly, and perhaps offer to circle back the next day or week. This avoids rushing into promises you can’t keep or providing answers that hold no weight.
Creating meeting spaces that encourage a company culture of sharing and honesty.
One great way to create a culture of vulnerability and curiosity within meetings is to use permission slips. These slips give you and your team the opportunity to do a self check-in before a meeting begins – a chance to identify your fears, hopes, and intentions.
Offer each member of your team a Post-it note, and invite them to list one emotion or action they’ll allow themselves to fulfill over the course of the meeting. You can use permission slips in private or as a group. They’re a valuable way of setting the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Not only do they encourage an intimate sharing space for the duration of the meeting; they also create an opportunity to hold each other accountable. For example, you might say to a colleague after the meeting, “Hey! I heard that you gave yourself permission to feel frustration in the meeting. How did that play out for you?”
Someone else might share, “I give myself the permission to take more time before answering questions.” But in the meeting, you might observe them returning to old habits and rushing through their answers. Again, this gives you an opportunity for a sliding-door moment – a chance to connect with your colleague and say, “Hey, I know you wanted to allow yourself more time around answering questions. Do you want to give yourself a chance to think this over, and we can pick it up at the end of the meeting?”
Use meetings as an opportunity to get clear on missing information or knowledge gaps.
If you lead an organization, you’ll know that organizations are made up of people. And people are constantly seeking patterns and stories to help them make sense of their world.
Your colleagues and teammates probably have a set of stories they refer back to in order to make sense of their work and their place within the team. The thing about stories is that the brain enjoys a neat ending. We want villains and heroes as well as a clear story arc. To put it bluntly, we want clarity.
When we arrive at missing information, uncertainty, or a lack of transparency – in other words, a bad story – it makes us uncomfortable. And so we do what humans do best: we problem-solve and fill in the gaps in our knowledge to create our own story. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t reward us for our nuanced perspective or truth-telling. It simply says, Give me a clear narrative. What am I working with here?!
If you run a business, or lead people within a business, you’ll discover very quickly just how dangerous bad storytelling can be. If you’re not giving your team the information they need, they’re going to start spinning their own truths and telling their own stories. And all of this is going to cost your business dearly in the long run.
That’s why, as leaders, we constantly have to check in with the stories our teams are telling themselves. When there’s a lack of transparency, the first story we jump to – as the writer Anne Lamott points out – is the Shitty First Draft, or SFD.
Think about what kinds of shitty first drafts your team members might be telling themselves right now. Imagine how fear and insecurity might be driving them to fill in the data gaps. What information might they currently be lacking, and what stories might they have created to satisfy those holes?
Happily, there are two ways around SFDs. The first way is to always be as transparent with your team as possible. Being open requires courage – but if you’re committed to a culture of courage, you’ll give your team as much of the data, and as much of the bigger story, as possible. The second tool is to carve out time in your teams’ calendar to have Shitty First Draft check-ins. After an important meeting or an especially rocky period, you might want to block a time in everyone’s calendar – a chance to go around the room and ask people to share the stories they’re telling themselves. Give your team the following prompts and invite them to share their SFDs.
“What I’m observing at work is . . .”
“The story I’m telling myself around this is . . .”
“This is making me feel . . .”
“This is making me act . . .”
For example, one team member might turn around to you and say, “Hey, what I’m observing is that when I submitted my proposal to you, you didn’t respond to the email. The story I’m telling myself is that you disliked my proposal. This is making me feel a) less valued and b) less motivated to move forward with the project.”
You might reply, “You’re right. I did read the proposal, and I thought there were things we could work on together. I’m sorry I didn’t reply to you sooner, and I can appreciate how anxious that must have made you feel. Should we find time to talk it through today?” This gives your teammate some relief – and it gives you both the opportunity to sit down and discuss the proposal.
On the other hand, you might reply, “I’m really sorry – I didn’t even have time to read your proposal. My kid was throwing up last night, and I’m exhausted. But I appreciate you for checking in.” As you go around the room sharing shitty first drafts, allow yourself to be open and vulnerable with your team. By being vulnerable, you grant your colleagues an opportunity to practice empathy. In this instance, your colleague might reply, “I’m sorry to hear that! Why don’t we sit down and grab a cup of coffee, and I can talk you through my proposal in person?” Again, this provides you both with the opportunity for a sliding-door moment – a chance to connect in person.
Once you’re in the habit of checking in on these stories, seeing where the data gaps are, and moving past shitty first drafts, you’ll be on your way to creating a more transparent company culture.
Getting clear on your core values will give you direction and allow you to move decisions forward with conviction.
Your values are like your North Star – they should direct every decision you make and every action you implement.
When we find ourselves facedown in the dirt, it’s our values that motivate us to get back up again and keep daring to give it our all. The most courageous leaders that Brené Brown came across during her research were those who really knew what their values were – and who used these values to guide them through periods of darkness.
So take a moment to ask yourself, What are my key values?
When making your list, you’ll likely come up with lots of answers at first. But try and whittle it down to just two things. Brené, for instance, narrowed hers down to the key values of courage and faith. Why two? After interviewing hundreds of global executive leaders, she found that most leaders identify ten or more core values. But the leaders most willing to experience vulnerability and demonstrate courage anchored themselves to no more than two.
It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Two values are actionable. If you have a long list of values, none of them can genuinely drive your behavior. Too many values, and you’re left with a meaningless list of words designed to make you feel good.
So come up with just two of your most important values, and let them guide your behavior – especially when times are tough.
The ideal of perfection stands in the way of great leadership, courage, and growth.
From an early age, we become skilled at shielding ourselves from vulnerable feelings like disappointment, hurt, and diminishment. We build walls around our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts and use them to protect ourselves from the big, bad world.
But to live and lead with courage, we need to, as Brené Brown says, “rumble” with vulnerability. One of the best ways to begin this journey is by recognizing the blockers preventing us from being more open. A key blocker here is perfectionism.
If we truly want to become daring leaders, we have to learn to put perfectionism in the trash can. But to do this, we first need to bust a myth – that perfectionism is a good thing.
Now, you might believe that perfectionism is all about self-improvement and striving for excellence. But when you take a closer look, perfectionism is really about attempting to win approval. Most perfectionists are raised in environments that praise their exceptional performance. As a result of this praise, perfectionists develop a damaging belief system that follows them into their adult lives; they anchor their whole sense of self in their accomplishments and perfect execution.
All of this can lock us into an exhausting behavioral pattern of people-pleasing, performing for others, and competitiveness. On the flip side, people with a healthy drive for success are often more self-focused. They continually ask themselves, “How can I improve?” instead of “What will others think of me?”
There’s a darker side to perfectionism – something that goes way beyond the need to please.
Research shows that perfectionism is associated with addiction, depression, and anxiety. Furthermore, perfectionists are more likely to miss opportunities and experience mental paralysis, which keeps them from fully engaging. Their fears of being criticized or not meeting the expectations of others prevent them from entering the messy arena of life, where healthy competition and striving for true greatness occur.
To become a daring leader, take off the armor of perfectionism and jump into the fray. You might make mistakes in the process, but you’ll gain something valuable along the way: the courage to succeed and lead.
The key message in this Blink is:
When you open yourself up to vulnerability, you open yourself up to courage and creativity. When you let go of perfectionist tendencies and a fear of failure, you find the bravery to improve yourself – and to have difficult, important conversations with colleagues. In other words, you need all of your emotions on board to become a daring leader.
Here’s some more actionable advice:
Explore your feelings instead of numbing them.
Often, our knee-jerk response when experiencing vulnerability is to try and make it go away. So we numb ourselves with whatever we have at hand – alcohol, food, shopping.
But before you dive into that big glass of wine or tub of ice cream, ask yourself this: What am I actually feeling, and where did this feeling come from? Once you’ve identified the real problem, you can work out what will bring you true comfort and relief.