Brené Brown founded her best-seller Dare to Lead upon one question: “What, if anything, about the way people are leading today, needs to change in order for leaders to be successful . . .” (6). During the seven-year study the book is based upon, she interviewed 150 executives who all said there was a need for brave and courageous leaders. Yet, Brown didn’t stop there. She got curious about what makes a person brave. Her goal was to provide those in leadership with the tools needed for becoming daring leaders.
Her research concluded bravery requires four definite skills:
- Rumbling with vulnerability
- Living into our values
- Braving trust
- Learning to Rise
This isn’t just a book on leadership theory. Brown splits Dare to Lead into four sections dedicated to teaching leaders how to increase their abilities in each of these areas. There are plenty of case studies and real-life scenarios that prove her techniques and action-oriented solutions work.
Throughout the book, Brown explains vulnerability is the key to courage and bravery. Without it, these leadership qualities are impossible because a person must first be vulnerable to practice the four skills essential to daring leadership. Yet, vulnerability can present feelings of discomfort. Instead of leaning into this, people often choose to shield themselves from the feelings that arise in the face of failure, risk, or emotional exposure. They do this through defense mechanisms like shaming, blaming, lacking accountability, and others Brown calls “armor.” The book convinces readers that effective leadership starts when we lay our armor down and show up with vulnerability and courage.
Below, find out more about vulnerability, the four skills all daring leaders need, and a few of Leaders’ staff member’s favorite quotes from each section.
Section 1: Rumbling with Vulnerability
The first section of Dare to Lead is about understanding vulnerability and how to step into this necessary leadership skill wholeheartedly. Brown defines vulnerability as “the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” (19). When people want to limit the chances of being hurt by others, they armor up and shield themselves from feeling vulnerable. There are too many negative myths associated with vulnerability, some of which include thinking of it as weakness, unnecessary, unsafe, and completely avoidable. Yet, armoring up isn’t courageous. It’s the same as running away as soon as the battle begins. In terms of leadership, no one wants to follow a person who backs down whenever the team needs them to step up.
How to Rumble: Get Curious and Ask Questions
Rumbling with vulnerability is how daring leaders push through the mud. “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 . . . to listen with the same passion in which we want to be heard” (10). Staying curious is instrumental in leaders effectively resolving conflict and solving problems. Having a rumble is a safe space for people to meet and get curious about why a conflict or problem occurred.
During tough conversations, Brown says use language like:
- “The story I make up . . .”
- “I’m curious about . . .”
- “Tell me more”
- “I’m wondering . . .”
- “Help me understand . . .”
- “Tell me why this doesn’t work for you” (172)
Once there’s more information about the area of conflict or discomfort, there is no rush to find an immediate resolution. For instance, Brown suggests circling back and discussing solutions the next day. Doing so after having a fact-finding rumble helps everyone process the discussion and identify ways to move forward as a team.
Section 2: Living into Our Values
Values are the guiding light of courageous and brave leaders. For this reason, Brown says people must be 100 percent certain about their values and what they stand for. She says it’s a good rule of thumb to pick two very distinct values that inform the way in which you live your life. She provides a few examples of values in her book. While choosing only two might seem like a small amount, it helps people focus on living in a way that is purposeful and fulfilling. “When values aren’t clear, we can easily become paralyzed—or, just as dangerous, we become too impulsive. Operationalized values drive . . . the sweet spot of decision making: thoughtful and decisive,” Brown writes (212).
It’s not enough to know what your values are, though. Having values is a daily practice that’s put into effect through your words, thoughts, and actions. A person’s core values are constantly being put to the test. While choosing your values over silence is often uncomfortable, it’s a part of being a daring leader. When stepping into her values during these moments, Brown says she tells herself, “Don’t choose silence over what is right. It’s not my job to make others more comfortable or be liked by everyone” (191). Ultimately, silence is a privilege and doesn’t model great leadership.
To lean further into values, answer these three questions:
- “What are three behaviors that support your values?”
- “What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your values?”
- “What’s an example of a time when you were fully living into this value?” (193).
For more helpful tips on living your values, Brown suggests:
- Having a person by your side who is an empathic source of support.
- Practicing self-compassion for living a value-driven life and doing the best you can do.
- Recognizing what it feels like when you’re being true to living your values.
- Letting your values lead when you receive and give feedback.
- Identifying warning signs, such as feelings of resentment, that hinder your actions from aligning with your values.
- Being brave enough to listen to feedback.
- Taking a break or day of reflection if you need one.
- Setting clear and distinct expectations and boundaries with others.
- Acting with integrity and generosity.
- Holding people accountable, but also assuming they’re doing their best.
Section 3: Braving Trust
Section three of the book is about how daring leaders navigate trust. Talking about trust isn’t an easy topic for leaders, which is why many people avoid discussing it. “Because these conversations have the potential to go sideways fast, we often avoid the rumble . . . when we’re struggling with trust and don’t have the tools or skills to talk about it directly with the person involved, it leads us to talk about people instead of to them. It also leads to lots of energy-wasting zigzagging,” Brown explains (222).
For instance, she uses the example of telling an employee they aren’t ready for a promotion due to a lack of trust. Saying “I’m sorry, you didn’t receive the promotion,” isn’t effective leadership. Employees can’t grow if they don’t know what and how they need to improve. Brown says multiplying leaders means giving people feedback with actionable strategies. Tell a person why there’s a lack of trust, what can be done to fix the gaps, and how to develop a plan together for receiving the next promotion.
Her other tips for building a culture of braving trust on a team include:
- Setting clear boundaries and accountability for respecting them.
- Being reliable and delivering results based on stated commitments.
- Owning the times you mess up, and doing what is necessary to fix mistakes.
- Keeping personal or private information in the “vault”—not sharing knowledge that isn’t yours to share.
- Choosing integrity and living your values over silence or inactivity.
- Asking for help when you need it.
- Being nonjudgmental and extending a helping hand when a co-worker or employee needs help.
- Stopping the assumption of negative intent and being generous in your interpretation of people’s motives, actions, and behaviors. (Communicating boundaries is key in setting the stage for leading with generosity.)
- Showing up during small moments. Brown elaborates on this subject by saying, “We don’t earn trust by demanding it with ‘Trust me!’ We earn it when we say ‘How is your mom’s chemotherapy going?’ or ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about what you asked, and I want to dig in deeper and figure this out with you” (232).
- Working through all of the above to grow self-trust. If you don’t have trust in yourself, you can’t offer your trust to others.
Section 4: Learning to Rise
The final section of Dare to Lead is about teaching resilience and how to get back up when we fail—because it will happen. Brown says as leaders, it is something we must do on the front end. “Often, leaders and executive coaches gather people together and try to teach resilience skills after there’s been a setback or failure. It turns out that’s like teaching first-time skydivers how to land after they hit the ground,” she illustrates (241).
Learning to Rise, or getting back up after a big fall or failure is a three-part process that includes: “the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution.” This is a skill you can teach team members before they experience big setbacks.
The reckoning begins when a person recognizes and gets curious about something that has them emotionally hooked. She elaborates: “Risers are connected to their bodies, and when emotion knocks, they feel it and pay attention” (251). A person might experience a slight headache, tingling hands, sweating, or a shift toward distracting thoughts. Recognize the signs your body gives you when negative emotions begin invading. Dig your heels deep into the ground and start asking questions about what’s bothering you and why.
The next step is rumbling. “In the absence of data, we always make up stories,” Brown writes (258). The brain likes complete stories, whether the story is true or not. Yet, when a person lacks information, they make up conspiracy theories and confabulations that agitate what’s bothering them even more. Her solution is working through an “SFD,” a first draft of the story we’re making up. When it feels like your emotions have been hijacked, it’s important to write out your story and how it affects your feelings, body, thinking, beliefs, and actions.
Following this, start revising the story by gathering more insight. She provides a list of questions to help people rumble with their stories. Ultimately, all of these revolve around learning and understanding more about three different areas: the situation, other people in the story, and yourself. “Own the story and you get to write the ending. Deny the story and it owns you,” she warns.
The revolution happens when people stop shielding themselves with armor. They make the decision to choose “rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust with open hearts, and learning to rise so we can reclaim authorship of our own stories and lives . . . Courage is rebellion,” she concludes in the last few pages of her book (270-271).
The Greatest Takeaway from Dare to Lead
The biggest takeaway from Dare to Lead is that a leader’s success hinges on their ability to be vulnerable. This is typically considered a “soft skill,” or even worse, a weakness. Brown’s research proves this deep-rooted societal belief is false. Furthermore, vulnerability isn’t a “maybe”—it’s a must for becoming the type of courageous leader the world needs.
Leadership is the ability to meet failure, risk, challenges, fears, and limitations head-on, and choose to face them because it’s the right thing to do. Daring to lead with vulnerability is a decision to honor your values for the sake of those you lead. Brown’s final message to readers says it all: “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).