Reviewed by Sara Fisher | March 18, 2019
What does a gifted leader look like? In her new book, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says the answer is clear. Daring leaders share one unexpected trait—vulnerability—and it can be taught.
Brown writes that she stumbled upon this revelation by accident. After giving many presentations to medical communities on behavioral health, she found herself backstage preparing to give yet another talk on the power of vulnerability. She’d been told that the audience was “C-level,” which she heard as “sea level” and assumed that meant salt of the earth, regular people. But after a peek at the auditorium, she saw rows and rows of men in suits and she realized that C-level was a corporate term meaning CEOs, COOs, CFOs—the big shots. What could these top leaders want to know about vulnerability?
But as Brown spoke, something unexpected happened: the crowd connected. They laughed, they cried, and they leaned in. Intrigued by the experience, Brown began to study the relationship between leadership and her research on connection, courage, and belonging. She concludes, “Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.”
She writes, “Vulnerability is the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” It’s an uncomfortable word for most of us, something we tend to avoid at all cost, especially at work. There is a myth that the less vulnerable and emotional we are at work, the more effectively we will produce and perform. The problem, as Brown points out, is that “when we imprison the heart, we kill courage.” This in turn stifles “trust, innovation, creativity, and accountability.” Vulnerability and courage are intertwined in all areas of our lives—and it’s essential for daring leaders.
Through stories, research, and invitations to reflect, Brown shares how to embrace the four skill sets that daring leaders possess: rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. She is quick to point out that rumbling with vulnerability is the most difficult and the most necessary. It involves the ability to lean into messy and hard conversations with a commitment to own your part and listen well to others. This is the difficult, awkward soil from which healthy teams, families, and relationships grow. Our ability to rumble with others is a call to stay engaged when we would rather check out.
Brown’s research on leadership reads like a series of stories from a friend. Her witty insights and personal failures invite us as readers to consider our own stories, the ways we have led with courage and vulnerability, and the new paths we must take forward. This book has challenges and encouragement for anyone who desires to lead with their whole self, in or out of the workplace.
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