Daring Leadership

If you have not heard of Brené Brown by now, you must be living in some fortress of solitude. Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent the last 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. All this research has led to five bestselling books and a couple of TED talks.

I recently finished her book, Dare to Lead. Being in a leadership role at work, I wanted to hone and sharpen my leadership skills. A few pages into the book and I start to realize, I am a leader in more ways than just at work. In fact, we are all leaders in some aspect or another. Leaders are those who are responsible for people and developing the potential within them. Sure, I do that at work, but I am also raising three girls and doing my best to develop the potential within them. Not to mention the volunteer work and mentoring that is also a part of my life. It was incredibly early in the book that I realized it was an excellent choice not just for me, but for anybody.

Brené breaks down daring leadership into four parts: rumbling with vulnerability, living into your values, braving trust, and learning to rise. My intention is to share with you my main take aways, but in no way am I going to do the book justice. If you like what you see here, I highly recommend you read the book!

Rumbling with Vulnerability

This was by far the largest portion of the book and I can see why. There were numerous learning opportunities. First let’s define vulnerability.

               Vulnerability = an emotion during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure

We are all human and we all feel vulnerability. Being vulnerable requires courage. And I think it is important to note that being vulnerable does not mean oversharing.

One of the first steps in rumbling with vulnerability is to decide whose opinions matter. Whose opinions do you genuinely care about? Get that straight; that’s who you should seek feedback from. Next you will want to create a psychological safe space. One where you and others feel safe to give and receive tough feedback and have difficult conversations (Can you see how this applies to almost every aspect of our lives yet?). It is important to set boundaries with yourself and others. Another important step to being vulnerable is to drop the “armor” or your ego. If you hide behind armor every time something difficult happens, you will never grow or be an effective leader.

Brené has a saying, “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind” and it should be the motto of every leader. Be clear with the people on your team. Ask questions and make sure everyone is on the same page. By being as clear as possible, you eliminate any chance of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. This is a much harder skill then it first sounds. It takes practice to learn the right questions to ask to ensure everyone is clear on tasks and expectations.

When being vulnerable, we should lean into healthy striving, joy, recognition, curiosity, self-worth, and play. Healthy striving is not expecting perfection, but rather expecting to better yourself. As leaders we shouldn’t rush through our successes, but rather celebrate the success and recognize those responsible. Recognition is a major factor in employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. We should be curious and always learning. Having critical thinking skills and asking the right questions is how we grow as leaders. To be an effective leader we must have a solid grounding in our own self-worth. We cannot help others if we have yet to heal ourselves. Great leaders are intentional about their sleep and play. Play shapes our brain, fosters empathy, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.

Brené has spent a lot of time researching and discussing shame. Shame is a strong word. Just saying the word shame makes me feel strong feelings. Shame is defined by Brené as the feeling of being flawed and unworthy. The antidote to shame is empathy. Empathy is connecting to the emotions of others. It isn’t about trying to fix other people’s problems but rather listening, connecting, and saying “me too”. It’s making the brave choice to be with someone in their darkness. Empathy is a skill that must be worked on. We are not born empathizers. And it is important to apply empathy to yourself. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love. I need to tattoo this onto the back of my hand where I will see it many times a day. Negative self-talk will get in the way of effective leadership.

Living into our Values

Leaders and organizations need to be clear on their values and then live them. A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Again, this may seem like an easy exercise, but as you reflect on yourself or your organization you must differentiate what seems like the “right words” and what you actually value. You may start with a list of 5-15 words, but for you to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, narrow it down to 2. Your intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors should align with those 2 values.

Leaning into our values and living them will build our integrity. Having integrity means choosing courage over comfort, doing what’s right over what is fun, fast, and easy. Daring leaders are never silent about hard things. That would not align with talking the talk and walking the walk. If an organization has well defined values, it creates a shared language among the employees and a well-defined culture.

Braving Trust

Trust is the glue that holds teams and organizations together. Trust is defined by the following behaviors: boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault, integrity, nonjudgment, and generosity. Trust is gained in the little moments, the smalls acts. Set boundaries for yourself, do what you say you are going to do, do not gossip, listen and do not be judgey.

Learning to Rise

Learning to rise is all about having resiliency. We should teach people failing upfront. Failing and rising from that failure is how you build resiliency. Brené teaches resilience in three steps: the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution. You must start by becoming curious when you feel strong emotions. Pay attention to your body and the cues you get from it. When the strong emotions take hold, start doing deep breathing exercises and practice calm. These exercises will enable you to get curious during an emotional time. As a part of getting curious, figure out what stories you are telling yourself. In the absence of information, we will always make up stories. Many of these stories are worst-case scenarios or conspiracy theories. Figure out what more you need to know to understand the situation or the people in your stories. And it’s important to remember, people are doing the best they can in that moment with the information they have. Assume positive intent.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown


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