Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown – Review by Roffey Park Learning Resource Centre
What is all the fuss about Brené Brown? Ever since someone asked for one of her leadership titles to be bought for our Learning Resource Centre at Roffey Park, I have noticed her name seems to be cropping up everywhere in the field of organisation development and leadership. Bookshops have her titles on bestseller displays, and internet searches on management and leadership seem to always list Brené Brown. She’s often connected with Oprah. In short, she is a bit of a superstar.
Because of this I am conscious of making judgements about her before even knowing a single thing about her writing, just based on my own preconceived, subconscious biases. I confess my reason for selecting this book, was solely that it would be easy to talk about. A quick read, distilling her leadership and management approaches. I hadn’t factored in that I might actually enjoy it!
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and has written 6 books, of which this is her latest. She has spent the last 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, related to management. Before that she had briefly worked in the field of organisation development. This obviously makes her a person of interest for us, here at Roffey Park, but why is the rest of the world so interested?
In two words…. vulnerability and shame. It all goes back to a TEDx talk she gave in 2010, which now has over 38 million views. The talk was based on her work as a qualitative researcher. In it she speaks of those she interviewed and their stories, but it is when she speaks about her own vulnerability, which she was brave enough to expose, that it becomes moving and so much more compelling to watch. The subject resonates deeply with many people in every context, because it’s all about the way relationships work from management, leadership and politics to marriage and parenting. She is a great teller of stories. [The story of her waiting in the green room to give her first TED Talk is not to be missed, don’t skip the ‘A Note From Brené’ section at the front of the book]
‘Dare to Lead’ is calling for a world with braver, bolder leaders. Brown highlights the key concepts of vulnerability, courage, values, trust and resilience that should be the bedrock of leadership roles. In many ways the opposite of the ‘strong, impervious leader’ role model we often assume to be the most successful. This chimes with our approach here are Roffey Park where we focus on the “Self” as a lens through which to develop. It also goes in tandem with our Dialogic Organisational Development view of OD practice.
She maintains that courage and vulnerability go hand in hand and writes “The courage to be vulnerable, as a leader, is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict the outcome”. Courage is not an inherent personality trait, but a collection of skills and behaviours that can be learned and goes to the core of building a culture of trust.
To deal with the tough times, it’s important to have values to ‘live into’, such as balance, honesty, fairness, kindness, diversity, self-discipline and respect (there is a long list of examples to choose from), but to really prioritise two to hold on to, no matter what. This will help build leadership resilience and focus when things are difficult.
There is a list of 7 behaviours, which she has also referred to in her other work (Talk ‘Anatomy of Trust’ and book ‘Braving the Wilderness’) to help cultivate our relationships, improve communication and above all, build trust. These are behaviours that a few special people you may have known in your life will have exhibited naturally in a very quiet and undefinable way. Now you will see what it was that made them special and be able to try them out for yourself.
This isn’t a complicated book, nor is it hard to read – the stories and the writing style make it very accessible. To an extent, these are her ideas specifically packaged for a business context, following on from the work she has been doing with business leaders. As she says it’s “a practical playbook for putting the lessons from Daring Greatly and Rising Strong (2 of her previous books) into action”. The obvious question is; Do we Dare?
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