Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

By Brene´Brown

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

260 pages, Random House, Oct. 2018, Hardcover $20

In a Nutshell: In the latest of her bestselling books, research professor, author and speaker Brené Brown takes on the issue of vulnerability that prevents us from leading our companies, groups and families.

Who’s it for? “Dare to Lead” is a handbook of sorts for 21st century interpersonal communication. So, that includes essentially all of us.

Author’s Quote: “Rather than spending a reasonable amount of time proactively acknowledging and addressing the fears and feelings that show up during change and upheaval, we spend an unreasonable amount of time managing problematic behaviors.”

Recently, I read an interview with a rural school superintendent who admitted his difficulty in leading his district through a painful time of transition and labor negotiations. The leader confessed that in hindsight he could have managed situations differently and his inexperience left him short with maintaining important relationships with his personnel and community. In this age where many in charge defer to diversion and deception under stress, it was refreshing to hear someone more openly reveal his shortcomings during tough times.

Admitting vulnerability counters the traditional playbook of leadership, where one works hard to appear strong and admitted failure is perceived as weakness. In her latest book “Dare to Lead,” Brené Brown points out that our courage and vulnerability go together and leaders that cannot confront their own weaknesses are unable to even begin to understand those team members they work with. Brown’s premise is backed up by research from 150 high level CEOs. That research centered on Brown asking those leaders what they should do differently to lead in today’s world, when “we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation.”

Brown defines vulnerability as ‘the universal emotion we feel when times are risky and uncertain or we are at the mercy of other people’s actions.” She dares readers to think of an experience where courage did not require them to also be vulnerable. Understanding the idea of vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness is crucial, but because of societal norms it is difficult for many to accept.

“Dare to Lead” also stresses focusing on two core values to endure adversity. Examples of these values include freedom, courage, justice, kindness, discipline, family, and honesty. Brown stresses that although it’s easy to come up with a list of values, narrowing them down and prioritizing just two over all the others gives leaders the ability to zone in what’s truly important during stressful times.

To make the book relatable, Brown injects her own business and personal experiences (and failures). Brown describes a meeting called by her staff to confront unrealistic deadlines, many of which came from Brown herself. Her staff took her to task when she replies: “It must be nice not to have to worry about the little things that make a big difference.” Brown quickly recognizes her flippant response as revealing her own weaknesses and after some honest discussions, the group worked to address the deadline issue.

“Dare to Lead” was recently recognized as the most downloaded audiobook of 2018 and Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 35 million views. Perhaps the book’s only problem for some readers is that Brown repeats some talking points that were discussed in her previous books and speaking engagements.

For the uninitiated like me who are hearing much of this for the first time, Brown’s overall message is a remedy to the subpar leadership skills prevalent in today’s world. With that in mind, “Dare to Lead” is an essential guide for working with others or leaders seeking to grow strong and effective organizations.

Chris Wendel is a Business Services Consultant with Northern Initiatives, a Community Development Financial institution based (CDFI) based in Marquette, Mich. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at cwendel@northerninitiatives.org