If asked to describe some characteristics of a great leader, most people wouldn’t use adjectives like “vulnerable,” “empathetic,” “open-minded,” or “willing to ask for help.” Yet that’s exactly how Dr. Brené Brown, a leadership expert and research professor at the University of Houston, would describe one.
Brown has been studying leadership for over two decades. Her 2010 TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” is one of the top five most viewed talks of all time, and she’s written several New York Times bestsellers like “Daring Greatly” and “The Gifts of Imperfection,” which have amassed thousands of positive reviews and accolades from some of the world’s best leaders, thinkers, and doers.
Brown has tested the skills and processes in “Dare to Lead” with over 10,000 individuals. She’s applied these concepts in more than 50 organizations, from giant entities such as the Gates Foundation and Shell to small family-owned businesses. According to Brown, the strategies outlined in this book have led to a significant positive impact on these organizations.
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. Her use of the word “leader” can apply to many different roles and situations. Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in other people or processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”
This leadership book offers valuable insights for high schoolers who want to run for student council or apply to a college they fear is out of reach. It’s relevant for teachers leading a class of students throughout the school year. It can help stay-at-home parents who are trying to be the best example they can be for their children, along with professionals who are looking to be the best they can be for their teams.
Learning to be a better, more courageous leader offers many benefits to your career. Great leadership is often rewarded with recognition from upper management, a raise, and even new job opportunities. Additionally, 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.
How can you be a brave, more daring leader? And how can you embed those traits in your culture — whether it’s your family culture or your workplace culture — so that those around you grow and thrive? These are two questions “Dare to Lead” sets out to answer.
The heart of Brown’s book is about courage and vulnerability. You can’t have one without the other, even though many think the two are mutually exclusive. In “Dare to Lead,” Brown sets out to prove why these two traits are so intertwined and how each of us, regardless of age or background, can strengthen these skills to live a more daring, authentic life.
Great leadership requires courage. Many people believe that courage is something you’re born with; either you have it or you don’t. However, Brown disagrees. According to her research, courage is a collection of four key skill sets, which can be taught. These four skills are:
- Rumbling with Vulnerability
- Living into Our Values
- Braving Trust
- Learning to Rise
“Dare to Lead” is organized into four parts, one for each skill. Within each part, Brown outlines the skill in-depth, and provides tools and lessons you need to strengthen it. She also uses the power of storytelling to show what each skill looks like, or the chaos that can result from its absence.
Part one, Rumbling with Vulnerability, is by far the longest of the four. The reason is because vulnerability is the heart of every other skill outlined in the book, and it’s an essential part of living a courageous life. So, Brown spends a great deal of time exploring why courage and vulnerability are so inseparable. She also goes over several myths about vulnerability and the role trust plays. She also explores shame, why it’s so threatening to vulnerability, and how you can use empathy to destroy it.
Part two, Living Into Our Values, helps you identify what your values are, and how you can use those values to live and work more authentically.
Part three, Braving Trust, outlines how to build trust and — just as importantly — how to build and keep it with your team using seven key behaviors that form the acronym “BRAVING.”
Part four, Learning to Rise, covers failure — and how important failure is to taking risks and leading courageously. In this last section, Brown goes over a three-step process to fail more effectively and get back up again.
One of Brown’s biggest strengths is that her writing is so uplifting and relatable, and there are so many wonderful and uplifting insights in this book it was hard to choose just one or two to highlight here.
One important insight has to do with the importance of being clear with people. Brown says,
“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
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.
In the book, you’ll learn some useful strategies for having difficult conversations, either at work or with your family. And the willingness to have these tough conversations can change your life and your relationships for the better.
As challenging as they can be, there are some strategies you can use to navigate a difficult conversation. One of these strategies is to use permission slips, which are a physical reminder of something you’re allowed to feel or do during the conversation. You’ll learn the importance of the circle back, which is when you take a short break during a hard conversation to think about what’s been said, what you still want to say, and how to identify key learnings in the conversation so productive change can happen.
“Dare to Lead” is an important book, and it’s especially relevant right now. Many of us see on a daily basis the failure of leadership in many different areas of life: our family, our workplace, our local community, or even at the state and federal level.
Change, no matter how small, begins with us. If we want to see courageous leaders then we must become a courageous leader that others can look up to. Brown gives us the language and tools to do that in this book.
What makes “Dare to Lead” so compelling is its humanness. Brown isn’t afraid to share stories of her weaknesses, and of all the times she fell woefully short of doing her best. She’s not afraid to detail the rifts she’s had with her spouse or team because of her failures and weaknesses. Her account of the Ham Fold-over Debacle in Part 4 has likely been reenacted in almost every relationship around the world at some point, and you’ll be laughing with recognition when you read it.
The end result of Brown’s own vulnerability is that we see ourselves in her, the good and the bad, which is as eye-opening as it is uplifting and hopeful.
Some of the insights in Brown’s book will be truly life-changing for some people.
One such insight has to do with fear, which Brown addresses early on in the book. Fear, along with vulnerability, is a key part of courage. Most people feel brave and fearful at the same time. Courage, then, is not the absence of fear but how you respond to that fear. It’s showing up and doing the right thing, even when you’re terrified.
One downside to the book is that Brown uses terms you’ll likely be unfamiliar with unless you’ve read her other books. These terms are bolded in the text, and there is a glossary you can download on her website, but it would have been more helpful to include the glossary in the book itself so readers could easily look up definitions.
Another criticism has to do with the book’s format. There are many wonderful lessons and concepts throughout the book, but they’re woven into the narrative seamlessly. Summarizing these concepts at the end of each chapter, or organizing them into a more systematic approach, would help cement learning for readers, especially those who pick up the book later on to refresh their knowledge.
“Dare to Lead” is aptly titled, as the primary focus is on today’s current and aspiring leaders. However, it could have just as easily been titled “Dare to Live.” Brown’s book teaches you how to harness the subtle power that lies at the heart of vulnerability. This wisdom, in turn, will help you lead a fuller, richer, more authentic life.
There’s no doubt every reader can learn something new and valuable from Brown’s book. Her writing is approachable, empowering, and engaging, and it’s a relatively quick read. Some of her insights have the power to dramatically alter how you live and work, and how you interact with others.
Have you read “Dare to Lead”? What did you think about it?