7 Lessons from Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown‘s most recent book Dare to Lead is a compilation of her best wisdom and insights from previous books (Braving the Wilderness, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, Gifts of Imperfection, and more) as well as new research all condensed and shared for leaders and applications in the work place. This has become one of my most recommended books for coaching individuals and leading culture change with organizations. Here are seven of the key lessons for me.

1. Leaders as learners, not knowers.

Leaders with a learner or growth mindset model and help their organization avoid perfectionism and foster healthy striving. Brown describes leaders who do this as focused on “being a learner and getting it right” (Daring Leadership) rather than on “being a knower and being right” (Armored Leadership). A key skill here is curiosity.

It is so tempting for leaders who want to gain the trust of their team to feel tempted by perfection – have all the answers, never make mistakes, never mess-up, and always make the right decisions. That’s impossible. And, those trying to prove they never mess up are leaders we don’t want to follow.

Be good (perfectionism) or get good (healthy striving)?

Recently a friend shared the story of her daughter struggling at a gymnastic practice. When the daughter couldn’t do something well, she felt defeated, gave up, and started to cry. The high school age coach sternly asked,

You need to figure out if you want to be good at gymnastics or if you want to get good at gymnastics.

In my work I get to drop in for a day or a couple of days in deep engagement with organizations and their cultures. I do this with about 30 organizations a year. Here’s a key lesson I keep seeing come up again and again.

In cultures of fear and scarcity, creativity and innovation don’t happen.

Joy and recognition are the antidotes to cultures of scarcity and fear. This is another reason I always recommend starting with celebrations, whether team meetings, coaching conversations, or family dinners. This is good neuroscience as it boosts the serotonin levels in people’s brain’s which makes them more solution-focused, better problem solvers, more open to diversity, and more creative.

2. Lead with Empathy

Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.

Sympathy is feel for me and can be condescending. Empathy is feeling with me. Brown outlines 5 empathy skills from her work and Kristen Neff.

Empathy Skill #1: To see the world as others see it, or perspective taking
Empathy Skill #2: To be nonjudgmental
Empathy Skill #3: To understand another person’s feelings
Empathy Skill #4: To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
Empathy Skill #5: Mindfulness

Brown suggests these ways of communicating empathy:

“me too”
“oh man, I feel you”
“I know that feeling and it sucks.”
“I see you. You are not alone.”
“I’ve been in a similar place and it’s really hard.”
“I think a lot of us experience that. Either we’re all normal or we’re all weird. Either way, it’s not just you.”
“I understand what that’s like.”

3. Leaders Have Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is how you

talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love.

According to Kristen Neff self-compassion is about shifting from

it’s just me
that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to ‘me’ alone.

4. Leaders Practice Self-care and Healing

“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.” Well, leader, heal thyself.

As leaders the stress and vulnerability can be overwhelming and often can trigger our old wounds and make new ones. Daring leaders recognize the temptation to numb and avoid the pain through food, alcohol, shopping, pornography, etc. Daring leaders practice both self-care and healing. Self-care and healing are both important but they are not the same.

Self-care = bandaging or getting a break from the wound = Netflix, tea, sleep, meditation, massage, healthy meal, calling a friend, etc.

Healing = work toward healing the wound = therapy, coaching, meditation, massage, conversation with a friend, etc.

Notice that some practices might be self-care to some and healing to others.

5. Leaders Pay Attention to the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

We tell ourselves stories:
-About life
-About others
-About ourselves

Creating stories when we don’t have all the information is human. When do we really have all the information? Brown suggests that the key is keeping our stories as Shitty First Drafts (SFD) (Stormy if you prefer or are working with kids). Jessica Pettit also talks about this. As coach Martha Beck suggests, we can share the stories we have and ask, “What do I have wrong?”

6. Leaders Shift from Shame and Blame to Guilt and Accountability

Brown describes that in unhealthy organizations there is “too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning.” I’ve used these slides to clarify Brown’s differentiation between these terms.

7. Leaders Practice Self-Management

Brown describes the practice of calm as “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.”

In The Book of Joy Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama described this as a sacred pause.

Sacred pause and widest perspective helps us solve problems with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity.

Brown recommends Box Breathing which is used in mindfulness practice and by special forces. Box Breathing includes:
1. Breathing in for 4 seconds.
2. Holding the breath for 4 seconds.
3. Breathing out for 4 seconds.
4. Holding the exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat.

Another mindful breathing technique is Andrew Weil’s 5-7-8 breathing.

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