Dare to Lead by Brené Brown – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

The epigraph of Daring Greatly is this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

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.


Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid. At the exact same time. Brené Brown


When an author is trending – you know, everything she/he writes is a must-read – that is usually a signal to pay some serious attention to the offerings of this author.

At this moment, Brené Brown is trending.  And I concur – she is worth reading.

Dare to LeadIf you don’t know the name Brené Brown, then you have truly missed out. She has the 5th most watched TED Talk – and it’s not even an actual TED Talk (it is a TEDX talk – and, yes, there is a difference).  Her previous books have been big best sellers.  And this newest offering, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts has been #1 (Dec. 2019) and #2 (Jan. 2019) on the New York Times Business Books best sellers list.

I presented my synopsis of this book at the January First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  I began with an empty jar, and a separate container of marbles.  She describes how every single interaction that is human, caring, attentive, puts a single marble of trust in the jar.  I told a story or two about people in the room, and dropped a couple of marbles in the jar. She argues that it takes a lot of such interactions to build trust.  You don’t get trust by asking for it.  You get trust by demonstrating human caring, one interaction at a time.  Great illustration!

In this so-many-devices era, with technological breakthroughs creating chaos in workplaces and work practices all over, this book is a call to remember the human factor. We are not robots; we are people working together.

I ask, what is the point?  Here is my answer:  We dance around, but don’t dance with, the people at work, and all the other people in our lives. It is time for true connection.  This book will help us make such genuine connection; will help us make connecting the center of our life…

And I ask “Why is this book worth our time?”  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This is the #1 best seller (New York Times, December, 2018, business books). Her TED talk is the fifth most viewed. In other words, Brené Brown is trending, and we should know who she is and what she has to say.
#2 – We live in a beat-around-the-bush culture. This book calls us to not beat around the bush any longer.
#3 – It takes real courage to be brave. And it takes our whole hearts.  This book will help us bring our whole heart into our work and into our life.

Here is how I summarized the book, with a quote from Ms. Brown:

What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation? …We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

When I read, I highlight a lot of passages.  There were so many highlight-worthy passages in this book.  These are the best of the best to my highlighted passages:

I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential. pg. 4
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.
Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning.
If the culture in our school, organization, place of worship, or even family requires armor because of issues like racism, classism, sexism, or any manifestation of fear-based leadership, we can’t expect wholehearted engagement.
Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.
Simply put, psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth. …This belief comes about when people both trust and respect each other.…Thus psychological safety is a taken-for-granted belief about how others will respond when you ask a question, seek feedback, admit a mistake, or propose a possibly wacky idea.
Sharing just to share without understanding your role, recognizing your professional boundaries, and getting clear on your intentions and expectations (especially those flying under the radar) is just purging or venting or gossip or a million other things that are often propelled by hidden needs.
…More than occasionally, I find that the people who misrepresent my work on vulnerability and conflate it with disclosure or emotional purging either don’t understand it, or they have so much personal resistance to the notion of being vulnerable that they stretch the concept until it appears ridiculous and easy to discount.
“We are not necessarily thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.”
You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
While some leaders consider apologizing to be a sign of weakness, we teach it as a skill and frame the willingness to apologize and make amends as brave leadership.
The words we use really matter. But words like loneliness, empathy, compassion, are not words often discussed in our leadership training, nor are they included in our leadership literature.
In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future they’ll be about the heart. —MINOUCHE SHAFIK, director, London School of Economics
Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will people think?
Great leaders make tough “people decisions” and are tender in implementing them.
Empathy is a hard skill to learn because mastery requires practice, and practice means you’ll screw it up big-time more than once.
Easy learning doesn’t build strong skills.

In the book, I discerned this as THE issue: it takes human understanding, and human skills (“soft skills”) to help develop effective and successful people, employees, teams, companies…societies.

She really says this strongly:  Never allow, never tolerate contempt!

• and beware of cynicism and sarcasm (and; R.M. – ridicule).
• never allow “power over.” — Hierarchy can work, except when those in leadership positions hold power over others—when their decisions benefit the minority and oppress the majority.

Here are her elements that make up the Heart of Daring Leadership

  1. You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck. — A rumble is 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, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.  — Courage is a collection of four skill sets that can be taught, observed, and measured. The four skill sets are: Rumbling with Vulnerability; Living into Our Values; Braving Trust; Learning to Rise
  1. Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead. — Practicing self-compassion and having patience with ourselves are essential in this process.
  1. Courage is contagious. To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.

Here’s my list of what I called the BIG issues:
• shame – “Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath.” — Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.
• armor — You can’t fully grow and contribute behind armor. — The Vulnerability Armory:  The first three—perfectionism, foreboding joy, and numbing—
• vulnerability — Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome. — TO FEEL IS TO BE VULNERABLE.
• courage
• listening
• clarity – set clear standards; expectations• feedback — We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. – Never sit across from someone when giving feedback! And, get very good at receiving feedback. “I’m brave enough to listen.”
• diversity and inclusion— People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong.
•Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege,
• problem identification— When something goes wrong, individuals and teams are rushing into ineffective or unsustainable solutions rather than staying with problem identification and solving.
• create a safe container  — by asking the team what they need to feel open and safe in the conversation.(psychological safety; a recurring theme for successful teams).• boundaries — we teach that setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.
• resentment

And here are my six lessons and takeaways from the book:

#1 – You’ve simply got to have those tough conversations. First, with yourself. Then, with your team.  You cannot, you must not, avoid them!
#2 – Identify your core values; and then, live into them. Practice them!  Live them!
#3 – Aim for mastery. (Mastery; not perfection). Thus, get very good at giving, and receiving, feedback.
#4 – Breathe. Practice taking breaths in and out. (Use the count of four: inhale through nose; hold; exhale through mouth; hold).
#5 – Pay careful attention to the stories you tell – to and about yourself; and your team; and your company; and our world.
#6 – Be brave enough to be vulnerable. This opens the path to growth and mastery.

Brené Brown is trending for a reason. We are starved for authenticity, vulnerability, being human in and at work.  If you lead people, if you serve on a team with people, my recommendation is simple:  read this book.  You will be the better for it – especially if you put the lessons of the book into practice.


My synopsis of this book will be available soon from the buy synopses page on this web site.  Each synopsis comes with the multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation.  Click here for the newest additions to our synopses.


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