Skip to content

Dare to Lead means different things to different people

I wasn’t surprised when the Take on Board Facebook group chose Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts for the April 2022 Take on Board book club. Many of my Take on Board podcast guests have recommended the book to listeners. Some have admitted to being Brené Brown disciples (looking at you Llewellyn Prain!).

I’m a Brené Brown fan. Her famous 2010 TED talk about the power of vulnerability opened up conversations about vulnerability and shame in new ways. I’m all for anything that helps us to think and understand things with fresh eyes.

Released in 2018, Dare to Lead is her fourth book. It’s described as a ‘practical playbook’ based on research with 150 global C-suite executives. If you don’t know the book, here’s the blurb:

‘When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions. We don’t see power as finite and hoard it; we know that power becomes infinite when we share it with others. We don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it’s necessary to do good work. But daring leadership in a culture defined by scarcity, fear, and uncertainty requires skill-building around traits that are deeply and uniquely human. The irony is that we’re choosing not to invest in developing the hearts and minds of leaders at the exact same time as we’re scrambling to figure out what we have to offer that machines and AI can’t do better and faster. What can we do better? Empathy, connection, and courage, to start.’

The cover of Brene Brown's book Dare to Lead. A simple cover with blue writing on a white and grey background.

The idea of courage is the key theme in this book. It’s about doing ‘bold work’ and ‘having tough conversations’. Similar themes to the last Ideas to Action blog post about ‘radical candour’.

Dare to Lead has evolved into more than just a book since 2018. There are videos, a workbook and a daring leadership assessment tool, as well as training and certified facilitators.

The book club kicked off with a bit of ‘container building’

As a facilitator, I know that any group needs to discuss ground rules before we get further into the nitty gritty. Even a group event which kicks off at 7.30pm where one person is drinking a prosecco and another a gin and tonic. Other beverages of choice on the night: soda water, herbal tea and a glass of milk.

The book clubbers started with these intro questions:

  • My name is…
  • I’m here because…
  • I’m feeling…
  • One thing I’m looking forward to tonight is…

Then we moved onto what Brené calls this ‘container building’ – a container for building brave spaces. It’s about taking the time to create a safe space at the start. Setting the rules. Letting people voice any concerns.

The container building questions were:

  • To show up and do the work, I need…
  • What might get in the way of me showing up and doing the work is…
  • Support, for me, looks like…

A book club is about sharing – ideas, feelings, recollections, experience. Sharing doesn’t move in a straight-forward way.

The diversity in answers reflected the different leadership roles and styles, experience and personal challenges. Although I did pick up on a few very clear themes:

  • Values: the importance of finding your two key values, what really grounds you
  • Trust: building trust after two years of not being in person
  • Hard conversations: the courage to feel the discomfort of difficult conversations

Find your two key values

Everybody finds it hard to narrow values down to two. I see this when doing values mapping exercises with coaching clients. Even if we’re able to settle on two values this year, they can change the next year. Narrowing it down to two gives us focus.

“It enabled me to pick values that help me keep on track with particular goals,” one book clubber said. “So, letting go of ‘kindness’ for a while was not about becoming unkind, but supporting me to be courageous about speaking up. To that end, the value of ‘authenticity’ was more helpful.”

On the topic of kindness, the book clubber said that Dare to Lead helped her get her head around the difference between ‘kind’ and ‘nice’. How ‘kind’ is active, and can be gentle and strong, while ‘nice’ was passive and often an expectation imposed by others.

“My vision of kindness is always going to mean being respectful and thoughtful, but dropping the ‘nice’ is freeing.” 

Here’s the list of values. Brené writes: ‘Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts and behaviours align with those beliefs.’

A quote from the book Dare to Lead: 'Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things'

Building trust after two years of not being in person

This is something impacting pretty much every leader around the world. Those in small and large companies, those on boards, teachers – the list is endless.

One of the book clubbers shared this story:

“What makes that trust actually occur, it is that psychological safety, it’s our vulnerability, it’s relationships, it’s admitting weakness, it’s admitting failures.

“We did this exercise as a team at a three-day strategy retreat, and wrote down some of these things that we would like to get help on from each other. Things where we could admit that we’ve done something wrong or made a failure. So, we tried to do a lot of this over a three-day period that we were together. And I have to tell you, at the end of it, it really helped build, that extra level of trust that we kind of lost over two years of not being in person, plus also having had a few changes of personnel in that time.

“Last week, we had a list of four or five questions that we had to look at. We had to think about who we wanted to build a deeper relationship with. And this might be who did we need to admit a mistake to? Who did want to go and ask for their advice on something where it was something that we weren’t as strong in, that we actually recognised was in someone else? We had the opportunity to invite feedback from somebody, or we could offer feedback.”

The book clubber and her team did ‘the work’. It took time. It would’ve been easy. It took a lot of vulnerability and courage. The courage to sit in the discomfort of hard conversations.

The courage to feel the discomfort of difficult conversations

The topic of tough conversations came up a lot during the book club. As well as vulnerability – of course. The vulnerability to accept and listen.

“So if I am working alongside with others who expect perfection who do not reward or maybe punish the acceptance of mistakes and who are unable to value, or even value just listening to difference,” another book clubber said. “Support for me looks like quality time with good listening.”

Brené no doubt listened and then had her own tough conversations with her own team when she made the call in May 2022 that they would all take a three-month sabbatical. I’m keen to hear how it all goes when they’re back onboard in September 2022.

A screenshot of Brene Brown's Instagram post about the decision she and her team made to take three months off work over June, July and August 2022. Brene's headshot is on the left, with the text 'see you in September!'/

Did this resonate with you?

If you read this far then all this quite possibly resonated with you. Are you experiencing new leadership challenges after the last two very hard years? Are you looking to be a daring leader but don’t know where to start? Reach out if you’d like some help. Or, start a conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn or even the Take on Board Facebook group (if you’re a member).

'Ideas to Action' is written in red fond and sits centred above a graphic of a quarter black circle on the bottom-left and a quarter circle of horizontal lines on the bottom-right.

Ideas to Action

Share this