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5 lessons from Dare to Lead

Updated: May 19, 2021

Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead is possibly my favourite book on leadership (and I’ve read a few).

If you are familiar with Brown and her work, this takes all of the insight from her previous books and applies it to leadership in a very thoughtful and practical way. If you’re not familiar then this is an excellent place to start, as it introduces many of the concepts and brings them to life.

I’m not going to summarise the book here, as I do recommend that you read it. I think there’s a huge amount of useful insight and I’m sure that I will return to it again and again.

But I wanted to share 5 points that stood out to me, and that I think all leaders will find useful.

Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

This is such a simple premise, but so valuable. When you are talking to someone, whether it’s giving feedback or instructions, being unclear or imprecise is not fair to them. If they don’t know what you want, or what you want to see change, how can they possibly meet your expectations? You might be trying to be gentle, or to avoid a dispute, but if you don’t make yourself clear, you are setting them up to fail.

This doesn’t mean you need to be cruel, obviously - to quote Brown, cruelty is “cheap, easy and chickenshit”). But be intentional with your communication, think about what you want to say and ensure you get the message across.

Difficult conversations are easier with a shared commitment and approach.

A lot of the book focuses on this - Brown advocates that you have to be willing to be vulnerable in a conversation for it to be productive. She gives a lot of examples of practical ways to do this, but it’s clear that everyone in the room needs to sign up to be open, listen and be respectful for it to work.

If you agree in advance how you will communicate as a team, when those difficult conversations do arise you know how you’re going to approach them. So they're less challenging for everyone, and ultimately more productive.

As a leader you can’t stop feelings, but you can set boundaries for behaviour.

We can’t control how other people feel. Those around us may be angry, sad or disappointed. We can’t tell them to stop feeling that way; it’s not going to change how they feel and it’s likely to make things worse. People are people, at work as much as anywhere else. As a leader, it’s far more productive to use empathy to help them move on.

However, we can and should set boundaries around behaviour: “It’s ok to be annoyed about this, it’s not okay to undermine your colleagues.”

Toxic cultures have their basis in shame

‘Shame’ is at the heart of Brene Brown’s thinking. It is the gremlin that sits on our shoulder whispering “you’re not good enough” or “who do you think you are?” It makes us second guess ourselves and get defensive.

Shame is universal, and so shame exists in all organisations. When it permeates the culture you’ve got a real problem. It manifests itself in behaviours like bullying, gossiping and blaming. For leaders to address and change a culture, they need to be willing to model the anti-shame behaviours themselves - empathy, respect and vulnerability.

Brave leadership is built on self awareness and practice

I love the concept of “grounded confidence”, which Brown describes as “the messy process of learning and unlearning, practicing and failing, and surviving a few misses.”

To be a courageous leader, you need to learn the skills involved, stay curious and practice, practice, practice. Practice won’t make perfect, but it will make you a leader who people can trust and respect.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to know what you thought.

You can also subscribe to my monthly round-up of reflections and recommendations on all things leadership-related.

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