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Dare to Lead, Reviewing Brene Brown's Latest

(posted: November 1st, 2018)

As a leader, are you ready to make the world a better, braver place?

Are you willing to choose courage over comfort?

You can create great cultures, engaged teams, and healthy organizations, if you are ready to be a daring leader.

Brene Brown's new book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. translates her work on vulnerability and courage to leadership, management, and business in general.

In our increasingly interconnected, tech-based, fast-paced business world, the old style command-and-control leadership structure is outdated and not effective by itself. Yes, leaders need to move fast and make strategic decisions, but they also need inspired and engaged teams to carry out their vision.

When things are constantly changing, how can we lead? What can we do better than machines and AI?

Empathy, connection, and courage, to start.

Successful modern leaders get loyal, engaged, and productive followers by building trust. How do you build trust? The first and most important step is vulnerability. As the book description says, "This is for everyone who is ready to choose courage over comfort, make a difference, and lead."

Why Daring Leadership

Brene and her team worked with leaders and employees in 50 companies for over two years. These leaders identified ten behaviors and cultural issues that are getting in our way in organizations across the world:

  1. We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Sometimes leaders attributed this to lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and more than half talked about a cultural norm of “nice and polite” that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid them.
  2. Rather than spending a reasonable amount of time proactively acknowledging and addressing the fears and feelings that show up during change and upheaval, we spend an unreasonable amount of time managing problematic behavior.
  3. Diminishing trust caused by a lack of connection and empathy.
  4. Not enough people are taking smart risks or creating and sharing bold ideas to meet changing demands and the insatiable need for innovation. When people are afraid of being put down or ridiculed for trying something and failing, or even for putting forward a radical new idea, the best you can expect is status quo and groupthink.
  5. We get stuck and defined by setbacks, disappointments, and failures, so instead of spending resources on cleanup to ensure that consumers, stakeholders, or internal processes are made whole, we are spending too much time and energy reassuring team members who are questioning their contribution and value.
  6. Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning.
  7. 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 and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting relationships.
  8. When something goes wrong, individuals and teams are rushing into ineffective or unsustainable solutions rather than staying with problem identification and solving. When we fix the wrong thing for the wrong reason, the same problem continues to surface. It’s costly and demoralizing.
  9. Organizational values are gauzy and assessed in terms of aspirations rather than actual behaviors that can be taught, measured, and evaluated.
  10. Perfectionism and fear are keeping people from learning and growing.

As a leader, are you seeing these issues in yourself and your own organization?

What is Daring Leadership?

"Leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential."

Real leaders connect, inspire, and build relationships. They cultivate upcoming leaders and champion ideas. They have strategic vision, and bring others into their vision.

The good news? The skills needed to become a courageous leader are identifiable and can be learned!

In "Dare to Lead," Brown takes the lessons from "Daring Greatly" and "Rising Strong," combines them with her new research and observations, and offers up practical steps for putting it all into action on the ground.

The Four Skills of Courageous Leaders

Brown has identified four leadership skill sets that can be learned, observed, and measured, giving us the opportunity to enhance our leadership skills, provided we are brave enough to have the tough conversations, show up with our entire hearts, and choose courage over comfort.

The four skills are interconnected, but the first, Rumbling with Vulnerability, is the foundation.

1) Rumbling with Vulnerability. Brown's research showed that fear is not, surprisingly, the primary barrier to courageous leadership. In fact, in her interviews with leaders most admitted to being fearful much of the time. The real issue is how people deal with the fear by putting up various kinds of armor. It is critical to understand that we all self-protect when we feel scared, defensive, or vulnerable.

A great tool to use when you are working on vulnerability is curiosity. In working with my clients I urge them to ask questions, a technique Brown also uses and which can help you to stay open and get you the specific information you need to understand a given situation. In the book she identifies 16 different ways we armor ourselves and offers tips for moving that armor out of the way to increase openness and vulnerability.

2) Living into Your Values. Leaders are required to do tough things, give hard feedback, put bold ideas into motion while being unsure of the outcome, and take many risks. Courageous leaders are able to do this consistently because they operate with a clear set of values. Values need to be more than just words on paper, though. Organizations need to identify concrete behaviors that support and exemplify their values. As Brown says, "When you have a values poster hanging but you don't...teach people the behaviors that support them, you are in BS territory. It starts to erode trust."

3) Braving Trust. This can be hard because people often don't know how to talk about trust. It can be hard to grab onto, hard to define. We know that the highest-performing teams are built on a foundation of trust. Fortunately, building trust is a skill that can be taught and learned.

4) Learning to Rise. Brown's version of resilience: the ability to re-set after an error or mistake. The ability to be resilient helps leaders learn from mistakes quickly, share those learnings, and continue to move forward in a positive way. Resilience is also a skill, or a set of behaviors, that every leader can learn.

"Courage is a skill set we can teach, measure, and observe, but we are choosing not to because it is an investment of energy and time and it takes muscle building. But why are we choosing not to do it? If we need braver leaders, but we're not investing in skilling them up, what is getting in the way?"

These four skill sets align closely with the work of Patrick Lencioni's Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team program, which also starts with vulnerability-based trust as the foundation for great teams.

By being more consistently attentive and mindful, leaders can embrace safety, courage, and vulnerability in ways that inspire others and build more creative and productive cultures.

I have been using Brene Brown’s concepts for years in my work to build healthy organizations, in combination with tools like the DiSC assessments, the 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, The Art of Feedback, Healthy Conflict, and other leadership and team development tools.

I recommend "Dare to Lead" for leaders, managers, and anyone who aspires to lead. The work is not easy, and clients often find that an engaged, outside facilitator can help to light the way and ease the journey.

Let me know if you'd like to work with me on becoming the courageous leader, or team of leaders, you know you can be!

Challenge Yourself
  • What does vulnerability mean to you?
  • In what ways, or in which situations, have you been courageous over the last year?
  • If you've read the book, what stood out to you that you'd like to add?

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2 Comments

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KLR Post

Hi Jen! So nice to have you weighing in! What a great experience that must have been, especially early in your work life. I love that it made such a lasting impression. Like you, I find Brene's work so important. Hopefully we can spread the respect, and the courage, around.

Posted by Kristi

(on Nov 15th, 2018  5:55 PM)

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Thanks for the great briefing on Brene's newest book...the things she talks about are stuff I was 'raised' on when working at Zenger Miller in my first career...respecting others, working from trust vs. fear, empowering others vs. command/control...these are everlasting strategies that work! Thanks again for your summary of Brene's great work!

Posted by Jen

(on Nov 15th, 2018  5:55 PM)

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