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Book Summary – Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Dare to Lead - Book summary

To succeed in a complex and fluid world, organizations need brave leaders and courageous cultures. In this book, Brené Brown presents the 4 courage-building skill sets that can be nurtured in any individual and organization. In this free Dare to Lead summary, you’ll learn what the 4 skills involve.

Dare to Lead: Brave leaders & courageous cultures

In any organization, the fear of failure and shame can lead people to hold back ideas, avoid risks and tough conversations. This stifles learning and creativity to hinder success in a world that demands continuous innovation.

Based on 2 decades of research and real-life experience, Brené Brown found the antidote to fear and shame: brave leaders who are willing and able to face uncertainty and vulnerability head-on, and teach their teams to do the same.  This book combines insights from Brown’s previous books (including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong), with her latest findings, to explain how you can become a daring leader.

Developing 4 Courage-Building Skills

Specifically, there are 4 courage-building skills that can be learned and taught. They are:

  • Rumbling with vulnerability: Have the courage to enter into conversations that make you feel vulnerable.
  • Living into your values: Get clear about your values and think/act in alignment with those beliefs.
  • Braving Trust: Don’t talk about trust in vague terms. Use the BRAVING Inventory to break it down into specific behaviors you can address.
  • Learning to Rise: Before you sky-dive into vulnerability, equip yourself with the skills and system to bounce back from failures.

The good news is, each of these 4 skills can be learned and taught. We’ll now give a brief overview of each of these skill sets. Do get a copy of our full 15-page summary for more details.

Dare to Lead summary - developing 3 courage-building skills

Skill #1: Rumbling with Vulnerability

To build courage, you must first learn to face your vulnerability.

  • Vulnerability is the feeling we get when we face uncertainty and the risk of emotional hurt. A rumble is a conversation where people allow themselves to be vulnerable so as to serve a higher mission and one another (instead of hiding behind masks and armor to protect themselves and their self-interests).
  • Rumbling with Vulnerability” is at the core of daring leadership. You can’t build an innovative culture without exposing yourself to risks and failures. So, it’s crucial to face your fears and discomfort.

Have the Courage to Serve

To serve their people, leaders must have the courage to address uncomfortable issues. In her first year of command at the Air Force, Colonel Dede Halfhill was asked a tough question—whether the pace of operations could be slowed down because the airmen were feeling tired. She knew that the real issue wasn’t about physical fatigue, so she took the opportunity to share about a study that found exhaustion to be a manifestation of high levels of loneliness. This opened an honest discussion about loneliness in the Air Force and how she could best support the airmen.

In our complete version of the Dare to Lead summary, we also elaborate on:

  • The 6 myths about vulnerability;
  • How to find your “Square Squad“; and
  • Several tools that you can use to have an open conversation and rumble with vulnerability (e.g. building a “safe container”, using “permission slips”, and useful phrases/tips for difficult conversations).

Shifting from Armored Leadership to Brave Leadership

Often, leaders try to keep emotions away from the workplace, thinking that it’ll make them more efficient. In reality, the opposite is true—when you lock away your heart/feelings, you also lock away the gifts of empathy and emotional literacy. This leads to disconnectedness from yourself and others, to reduce curiosity, engagement, courage and performance.

Wholeheartedness is about knowing that you’re whole and worthy of love/belonging despite your fears and imperfections. Instead of trying to hide your feelings to protect yourself, wholeheartedness is about integrating your thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s about embracing all aspects of yourself—both the good and the bad—that jointly make you who you are.

Specifically, Brown’s research uncovered 16 types of armor that people wear at the workplace to protect themselves from the fear of failure, being judged, misunderstood or shamed: Perfectionism, foreboding joy, numbing, winner-vs-loser mentality, know-it-all, hiding behind cynicism/sarcasm, using criticism as a shield, exploiting power, hustling blindly, leading with compliance and control, pegging self-worth to productivity, condoning a “fitting-in” culture, exploiting uncertainty/fear, focusing on personal credit, zigzagging, and leading from hurt.

In our complete 15-page summary, we explain each of these 16 forms of armored leadership and what it means to shift to daring leadership. Of these defensive behaviors, the first 3—perfectionism, foreboding joy, and numbing—are the most common.

Shame and Empathy

Shame is the feeling that we’re not “good enough”. It’s the sense that we’re flawed and unworthy of love, belonging, and connection. It can surface any time, e.g. when you’re caught lying or when someone calls you a loser.

There are 3 truths about shame. Shame is universal, i.e. everyone experiences it. We’re all uncomfortable to talk about it. Yet, the more we avoid it, the more power it has over us.

Empathy is the opposite of shame. It’s also the best antidote to shame. o Empathy is not about offering sympathy, advice or trying to fix things. It’s about connecting with someone’s feelings, and letting them know that we’re with them in their pain. Even if you haven’t experienced something, you can still empathize with the underlying emotions behind the experience.

In our full Dare to Lead summary, we’ll explain the following in more detail:

  • The difference between shame vs guilt, embarrassment and humiliation;
  • The 5 skills behind empathy and tips for expressing empathy;
  • The 6 barriers that block empathy; and
  • How to build shame resilience by shifting from shame to empathy.

Curiosity and Grounded Confidence

Rumbling with vulnerability isn’t easy. You will inevitably stumble, fail, and must constantly adjust your approach as you unlearn and relearn. However, if you stay curious and keep practicing, you’ll gradually build grounded confidence to (i) uphold your values, and (ii) respond with self-awareness instead lashing out defensively.

Grounded Confidence = Rumble Skills + Curiosity + Practice

We don’t know what we don’t know. To get curious about something, you must first have some awareness of it. Here are some useful rumble-starters to practice curiosity:
“Tell me more”.
“The story I’m making up is…”
“I’m curious about…”
“I’m wondering…”
“Help me understand…”

Skill #2: Living into your Values

Often, our values drive us to do what’s courageous or uncomfortable, and to pursue our beliefs even when we’re surrounded by critics and cynics. “Living into your values” means to practice what you preach, i.e. to do what you believe to be the most important. This in turn requires that you get clear about your values, and think/act in alignment with those beliefs.  In our complete Dare of Lead summary we break down (i) the key steps involved at a personal and organizational level, and (ii) how to stick to your values when giving and receiving feedback.

Skill #3: Braving Trust

Trust is vital for meaningful relationships and team cohesion. Yet, it’s hard to talk about trust—we end up zig-zagging around it or talking in vague terms that lead nowhere. To rumble about trust, you need to get specific. In our 15-page Dare to Lead summary, we explain the 7 specific behaviors in the BRAVING Inventory and how to use it to build self-trust and trust in teams.

Skill #4: Learning to Rise

When you learn to sky-dive, the first thing you learn is how to survive a hard landing. Likewise, before you sky-dive into vulnerability, equip yourself with the skills and systems to bounce back from failures. This is broken down into 3 parts: (i) the Reckoning (recognizing you’re emotionally hooked by something and getting curious about what’s going on), (ii) the Rumble (to take control of your destructive stories, especially the “shitty first draft”), and (iii) the Revolution.

Getting the Most from Dare to Lead

If you’d like to lead courageously and help your team to do the same, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 25-minute audio summary.

Dare to Lead summary - Book Summary BundleThis book is written in a casual, conversational style, with many personal anecdotes and stories to give you a glimpse of how Brown thinks and feels about shame, fear and vulnerability. The best way to learn about vulnerability is through practice. Brené Brown invites you to download the free workbook and tools from the Dare to Lead website to help you apply the ideas from this book. Or, purchase a copy of the book here for the full details.

[Do also check out our Crucial Conversations summary and Difficult Conversations summary for more practical tips on how to handle sensitive or difficult conversations and get more insights from our Daring Greatly summary. You can also check out the Find your Why summary to dive deeper in how to find and live your “why”, find out when to quit vs stick with The Dip summary, and how to learn from mistakes and bounce back stronger with Black Box Thinking summary.]

About the Author of Dare to Lead

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. is written by Brené Brown–an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host. She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and a visiting professor in management at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. She’s renowned for her research on the topics of shame, guilt and vulnerability research, has spoken widely on these topics, and has won numerous teaching awards.

Dare to Lead Quotes

“Courage is a collection of four skill sets that can be taught, observed, and measured.”

“The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”

“Daring leadership is ultimately about serving other people, not ourselves. That’s why we choose courage.”

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

“We cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light.”

“Empathy isn’t about fixing, it’s the brave choice to be with someone in their darkness.”

“Empathy is infinite and renewable. The more you give, the more we all have.”

“If we can’t cheer ourselves on, we shouldn’t expect others to do it. If we don’t make our values priorities, we can’t ask others to do it for us.”

Click here to download the Dare to Lead summary & infographic

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