Dare to Lead
By: Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW
Review written by CARLY MELILLO
Brené Brown, five-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, C.E.O., professor, and TED Talk titan, lays out two decades of research in her latest book, Dare to Lead, in an effort to answer the self-posited question, “How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders?” From interviewing 150 C-Suite executives and analyzing data on programmatic practices across a medley of work environments, Brown asserts vulnerability as a core tenet of leadership and an effective agent in navigating and cultivating a more harmonious and empathetic workplace.
The goal of Dare to Lead, is to offer accessible, actionable practices to arm the reader with; Brown sees her work as a “playbook” for reshaping the workplace into open spaces where colleagues can “rumble with vulnerability.” To be vulnerable doesn’t require one to bear their deepest traumas in front of the entire office. To “rumble” is simply to have “a real conversation, even if it’s tough.” It’s an invitation to a constructive dialog, with clear expectations of honest, direct communication grounded in empathy.
Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes accountability for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” It is owning one’s actions, listening instead of reacting, collaborating instead of stifling. She rejects the myth of vulnerability as weakness and wholeheartedly endorses it as a source of strength and power. Vulnerability is releasing the desire for control and embracing the opportunity for growth and connection through introspection. Hard conversations, which disown one’s desire for comfort, are an act of courageous leadership and dismantle a professional environment built on fear and an imbalance of power.
It is important to note, Brown isn’t trying to fundamentally change the reader, rather challenge them to connect to the parts of themselves, and their colleagues often shelved in order to appease the archaic notions of professionalism and leadership. She recognizes the defining traits of humanity – empathy, courage, and vulnerability – as employable skills. For the leaders who weaponize fear to maintain power, it is easy to leave the door of direct communication superficially open, when they’ve made it difficult to walk through. It is by honoring their employees’ humanity, without the shadow of consequence, that leaders can invite their pupils into productive, honest conversations, however difficult.
Operating from this framework, much of what Brown writes naturally translates to one’s personal life, as these skills don’t just make for a well-rounded leader, but inform healthy, personal relationships. What is most persuasive and accessible about Brown’s writing, is her willingness to put the personal, in all its shortcomings, on full display. She leads by example, utilizing each misstep in her career and relationships as a lesson learned and an opportunity to practice rumbling with vulnerability across every page.
The latter stage of the book begins to tire, reiterating the core assertions in excess and thus to less effect. For those familiar with her previous work, Brown also openly concedes some of the ideas and lessons presented may be redundant. Still, the message prevails, and the entirety of the book serves as a culmination of her life’s work into a resource of actionable steps for embodying a brave and daring leader.
Accompanying the book is the Dare to Lead Hub, an interactive website dedicated to free, supplemental resources which include a web series, a leadership-style assessment, and a handy glossary of Dare to Lead vernacular. Perhaps most useful is the read-along workbook which is designed to dig deeper into the text to uncover insights into one’s own habits and practices through prompts and exercises.
Brown’s work is particularly salient during a universal time of reckoning in the workforce. When, within the last two years, seemingly every executive has sent a company-wide email affirming their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion, despite their employees of marginalized identities not experiencing such promises in practice. The framework of leadership provided by Brown won’t revolutionize those who abuse power, but for leaders who can recognize their personal limitations and own their actions, Dare to Lead is a springboard to creating a workplace that successfully values its employees, in all their humanity.