In “Dare to Lead,” Brené Brown presents a playbook for daring greatly and rising strong at work. The social psychologist, known for her viral TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” and her research on vulnerability and courage, synthesizes her work towards redefining leadership and organizational management in the workplace through a philosophy of daring leadership.
Brown defines a leader as someone who “takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” She invites leadership to dare to be brave leaders by leading with wholehearted leadership and self-awareness by embracing vulnerability and courage cultures into their work culture.
Introducing daring leadership
To build courage in teams and organizations, daring leaders have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation. In other words, courage is how leaders behave and show up in difficult situations, which ultimately strengthens care and connection between leaders and their team members.
As Brown describes, daring leadership is a collection of skill sets that can be taught, observed, and measured by:
- Rumbling with vulnerability
- Braving trust,
- Living into our values, and
- Learning to rise
Rumbling with vulnerability
Brown seeks to reframe what she sees as the myth of the essence of what vulnerability truly is. In many fields across various industries, vulnerability is equated with failure, and workers are rewarded for their efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities every day. As she observes, organizations that have accepted that as the reality are the ones struggling most in terms of being void of daring leadership skills. She says, “many people walk into work every day with one clear task: Engineer the vulnerability and uncertainty out of systems to mitigate risk.”
What Brown advocates for is embracing relational vulnerability between leaders and employees. For work teams, “the behaviors that people need from their group almost always include listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidential information.” She believes this will have a critical role in business as this is the key to building trust within teams.
According to research conducted on behalf of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, “trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces.” With trust, must-haves such as continuous improvement and sustainable, measurable, and tangible results in the marketing are made possible in organizations. In fact, companies with high levels of trust “beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”
In the workplace, trust is cultivated by daring leaders through active efforts to respect boundaries, practice reliability and accountability, and come from a place of non-judgment.
How does Brown suggest leaders establish trust-building within teams? It’s through the small moments of care shown by leaders towards their employees: “Trust is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.”
Trust is earned by asking your team what they need from you in a way that allows for openness and safety in conversation. By asking questions like, “What does support from me look like?” particularly during times of change, uncertainty, and challenge, leaders can encourage disclosure from employees and improve the quality of the feedback and insights given by team members.
Another way to build trust between leaders and team members is through honesty. The telling of half-truths is usually done to lessen the discomfort of difficult moments in the workplace, such as tough conversations, hard meetings, and altering decision-making. However, this act of protection ends up having the opposite intended effect: “Most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair.”
Distrust in and disconnection from leaders can come with great costs in terms of employee productivity, performance, and engagement: “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.” As Brown declares, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
Living into our values
Brown emphasizes the importance of living into the value of values within organizations: “Living into our values means that we do more than profess our way of being or believing, 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 behaviors align with those beliefs.”
Daring leadership involves reminding employees of their purpose and the value they provide through their work, which all starts with working with your team members to establish clarity of values: “Daring leaders sit down with their team members about the unique contributions they make, so that everyone knows where they’re strong.”
A leader’s job is to help “operationalize and translate values from ideals to behaviors—teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values.”
Brown believes when each employee has confidence in their value in the workplace, the company will experience a positive transformation. Team members will coordinate “to each other’s strengths instead of vying to run the whole stretch alone. Once everyone understands their value, they can lean into their gifts.” They will be more willing to lean into the uncomfortable and dare to innovate when driven by their set of beliefs.
Collective courage in an organization is “the absolute best predictor of that organization’s ability to be successful in terms of its culture, to develop leaders, and to meet its mission.”
When it comes to encouraging their people to bring their whole selves to work, daring leaders must set an example through encouraging courage, vulnerability, and failure in the workplace.
Daring leadership will transform the way leaders lead, as "developing a practice of rumbling with vulnerability gives leaders the strength, confidence, and emotional stamina to learn to rise and dare greatly.”