Book notes: Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown book summary review and key ideas.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown

Executive Summary:

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“Leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential.  

When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions. We don’t see power as finite and hoard it; we know that power becomes infinite when we share it with others. We don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it’s necessary to do good work.  

But daring leadership in a culture that’s defined by scarcity, fear, and uncertainty requires skill-building around traits that are deeply and uniquely human. The irony is that we’re choosing not to invest in developing the hearts and minds of leaders at the exact same time as we’re scrambling to figure out what we have to offer that machines and AI can’t do better and faster. What can we do better? Empathy, connection, and courage, to start.  

Brené Brown has spent the past two decades studying the emotions and experiences that give meaning to our lives, and the past seven years working with transformative leaders and teams spanning the globe. She found that leaders in organizations ranging from small entrepreneurial startups and family-owned businesses to nonprofits, civic organizations, and Fortune 50 companies all ask the same question:  

How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders, and how do you embed the value of courage in your culture? ” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I read Brené Brown’s other book The Gifts of Imperfection and it was amazing. Other people who are familiar with her work seem to really love what she offers. My coworker is actually reading this and she recommended it so far. And of course, the average rating and number of reviews for this book is pretty good especially being a new book.

Key notes:

Introduction: Brave Leaders and Courage Cultures

  • A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential
  • 10 behaviors and cultural issues that leaders identify as getting in our way in organizations across the world
    1. We avoid tough conversations including giving honest productive feedback
      • They attribute this to lack of courage, skill, and social norms of wanting to be polite
    2. We spend an unreasonable amount of time managing problematic behaviors
    3. Diminishing trust caused by a lack of connection and empathy
    4. Not enough people are taking smart risks or creating or sharing bold ideas to meet the changing demands and the appetite for innovation
    5. We get stuck and defined by setbacks, disappointments and failures. We spend too much time reassuring team members of their contribution and value
    6. Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning
    7. People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong. Choosing comfort over difficult conversations is the epitome of privilege. It corrodes trust and moves away from meaningful change
    8. Individuals and teams rushing to ineffective or unsustainable solutions when things go wrong rather than doing a root cause analysis
    9. Organizational values are assessed on aspirations rather than actual behaviors
    10. Perfectionism and fear are preventing people from learning and growing
  • The heart of daring leadership:
    1. You can’t get to courage without rumbling through vulnerability. Embrace the suck
      • Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. We can feel both at the same time
      • A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to be fearless and vulnerable, and to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard
      • Courage is a collection of 4 skill sets than can be taught, observed, and measured
        1. Rumbling with vulnerability
        2. Living into our values
        3. Braving trust
        4. Learning to rise
          • Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability
    2. Self awareness and self-love matter; who we are is how we lead
      • The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear
      • The real barrier to daring leadership is our armor we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability
    3. Courage is contagious
      • It’s important to create a culture that makes people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected
      • Daring leaders must care for and be connected to the people they lead

Part One: Rumbling with Vulnerability

Section one: the moment and the myths

  • Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome 
  • Cheap seat feedback is given from people who don’t get into the ring and practice vulnerability but will give cheap feedback anyway
    • To love is to be vulnerable 
  • The 6 myths of vulnerability
    • Myth #1: vulnerability is weakness
    • Myth #2: I don’t do vulnerability
    • Myth #3: I can go it alone
      • We are hardwired for connection. From our mirror neurons to language, we are a social species. In the absence of authentic connection, we suffer
      • We derive strengths from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together
    • Myth #4: you can engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability
    • Myth #5: trust comes before vulnerability 
      • Trust is a slow building, iterative, and layered process that happens overtime
      • Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection
      • 4 horsemen of the apocalypse of a failing marriage:
        1. criticism
        2. defensiveness
        3. stonewalling
        4. contempt 
    • Myth #6: vulnerability is disclosure 

Section 2: The Call to Courage

  • Being clear with people is kind, being unclear as unkind

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”

Joseph Campbell
  • Stockdale lesson: you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end which you can never afford to lose with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be
    • They call this learning gritty faith and gritty facts
    • They are big believers in “what’s my part?
  • When we’re lonely, we feel lethargic 
  • In sanitizing our language, in the context of military leadership training, we’ve decreased our comfort with expressing those feelings and holding that same space for others
  • 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 
  • Other peoples emotions are not our jobs
    • We can’t both serve people and try to control their feelings

Section 3: The Armory

  • Protecting our ego and fitting in is when we reach for armor in situations where we feel being liked or respected is at risk because we may be wrong or not have all the answers or not look smart enough
  • Perfectionism is more about perception than internal motivation
    • And there’s no way to control perception
  • Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel
  • Vulnerability, resentment, and anxiety as biggest drivers of numbing
    • Resentment is almost always related to a lack of boundaries
  • As a leader, reward clarity, kindness, and real conversation. And teach hope instead
  • The very best example of vulnerability is saying I love you first

Section 4: Shame and Empathy

  • Shame 101:
    1. We all have it, shame is universal and one of the primitive human emotions we experience
    2. We are all afraid to talk about shame
    3. The less we talk about shame, the more control he has over our lives
      • Shame resilience is the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame
        • To move through the experience without sacrificing our values
      • To come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, connection then we had going into it
        • It’s about moving from shame to empathy
  • Empathy is infinite and renewable
    • The more you give, the more you have
    • There’s no reason to rank and ration or use comparative suffering
  • In those bad moments when others are in pain, it is not our job to make things better
    • Our job is to connect and to take the perspective of someone else
    • Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience
  • Empathy skill #1: To see the world as others see it, or perspective taking
    • It’s only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued that we can start getting a full picture of the world, who is serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are
  • Empathy skill #2: to be non-judgmental 
    • We judge in areas where we are most susceptible to shame, and we judge people who are doing worse than we’re doing in those areas
  • Empathy skill #3: to understand another person’s feelings
  • Empathy skill #4: to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
    • Emotional literacy is also a prerequisite for empathy, shame resilience, and the ability to reset and rise after a fall
  • Empathy skill #5: mindfulness
    • Empathy is about trying to connect and paying attention 
    • Empathy is feeling with people, sympathy is feeling for them
    • Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection
      • The most important words you can hear from someone when you’re in struggle or say to someone are “Me too. You’re not alone
    • Don’t try to compare and shift the focus to the other person
  • Four elements of shame resilience:
    1. Recognizing shame and understanding it’s triggers
    2. Practicing critical awareness 
    3. Reaching out
    4. Speaking shame
      • Shame derives its power from being unspeakable, that’s why it loves perfectionists

Section 5: curiosity and grounded Confidence

  • Easy learning doesn’t build strong skills
  • To be effective, learning needs to be effortful
    • The key is desirable difficulty
    • The brain needs to feel some discomfort when it’s learning
  • Curiosity is an act of vulnerability and courage
    • Curiosity is correlated with creativity, intelligence, improved memory and learning, and problem-solving
    • Curiosity is the feeling of deprivation we experience when we identify and focus on a gap in our knowledge
    • It means we have to have some level of knowledge and awareness before we can get curious
  • Curiosity and knowledge building grow together
    • The more we know, the more we want to know

Part Two: Living Into Our Values

  • Integrity is choosing courage over comfort
    • Choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy
    • It’s practicing our values, not just processing them
  • Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things
    • Mastery requires feedback
  • We don’t fully see people until we know their values 

Part Three: Braving Trust

  • Trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces
    • Trust is the one thing that changes everything
      • It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must-have
      • Without it, every part of your organization can fall into disrepair
  • The BRAVING Inventory is a rumble tool
    • B = Boundaries – Respect others’ boundaries and willingness to ask
    • R = Reliability – You do what you say you’ll do
    • A = Accountability – You own your mistake, apologize, and make amends
    • V = Vault – Don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share
    • I = Integrity – Choose courage over comfort
    • N = Non-Judgement – We can talk about how we feel and ask for help without judgement
    • G = Generosity – Extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others 
  • Leaders say that asking for help builds trust
    • Asking for help is a power move and a sign of strength to fight off judgement when others raise their hands 
    • It reflects a self-awareness that is an essential element in braving trust

“I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me ‘I love you'”

Maya Angelou

Part Four: Learning to Rise

  • Ham Foldover Debacle: You make yourself the center of something that has nothing to do with you out of your own fear or scarcity only to be reminded that you’re not the axis on which the world turns
  • The three-step process to learning to rise:
    • The reckoning
    • The rumble
    • The revolution
  • Slow down, take a deep breath, and get curious about what’s happening
  • Emotions are called feelings because we physically feel them in our bodies
    • This is how our bodies are connected to our mind
    • Risers are more emotionally connected to their bodies and pay attention to them
  • Pain is hard. It is easier to be pissed off or angry than to acknowledge hurt 
    • In this case our ego does the dirty work
      • It denies emotion and hates curiosity
  • We don’t trust people who don’t struggle, who don’t have bad days or hard times
    • We don’t find connection with people we don’t find relatable
  • Tactical breathing: Inhale deeply through your nose, expand in your stomach for a count of four. Hold in that breath for a count of four, slowly exhale all the air through your mouth contract in your stomach for a count of four. Then hold the empty breath for a count of four
  • Practicing calm is one of the most underrated leadership superpowers
    • Calm is creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity
  • Universal truth: in the absence of data, we will always make up stories
    • It’s how we are wired. Meaning making is in our biology
    • In struggle, our brain comes up with a story to explain what’s going on and gives our brain information on how best to self protect
    • The part of the brain that goes into protection mode likes binaries
      • Good guy, bad guy, dangerous, safe, ally, enemy
      • Because we are compelled to make stories, we are often compelled to take incomplete stories and run with them
  • Confabulation is a lie told honestly
    • It’s to replace missing information with something false that we believe to be true
  • An SFD is a stormy(shitty) first draft of the mental story you’re telling yourself that can be emotional and inaccurate
    • But it’s meant to be getting out of the way and worked on later
  • It’s so much more honest, vulnerable, and disarming to state your proclamation is just conjecture that you want to get clarity on
  • Courage is rebellion
    • Choosing authenticity and worthiness is an act of resistance in today’s world
    • Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance
  • Three main things she’s learned from all her research:
    1. The level of collective courage in an organization is the absolute best predictor of the organizations ability to be successful in terms of its culture, to develop leaders, and to meet its mission
    2. The greatest challenge in developing brave leaders is helping them acknowledge and answer their personal call to courage
      • Courage can be learned if we are willing to put down the armor and pick up shared language, tools and skills that we need for rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise
    3. We fail the minute we let someone else define success for us

Closing thoughts:

Another great book from Brene. Makes me want to read her other books, but I really appreciate that she goes back and highlights the main points that are relevant to this topic. But then again, it seems like each book is just a continuation of her research. She brings the main points of those books and reiterates them here for the reader.

I think overall, the themes and main ideas are so relevant to people in and out of the workplace. Having the courage to lead with vulnerability is so key in being an effective leader. It reminds me of when I read The Five Dysfunctions of A Team last month, a lot of the themes about good leadership is similar. The main ideas are about creating the environment for trust to thrive, which includes having empathy, emotional literacy, integrity, curiosity, and the ability to practice calm.

Highly recommend this book for almost anyone, especially people in the workplace or people who work in teams/organizations. Most problems are usually relational, and can be solved if you work to improve trust within teams.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are actually a LOT of good takeaways that I feel like so many people need to take from this. Like actually need haha. For myself, many of these themes are good reminders from what I’ve read in other works, and also a reminder to keep putting them into practice and get a little better each time.

If I had to choose one highlight for myself that really stood out it would actually be one of the quotes featured in the book:

  • I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me ‘I love you’” – Maya Angelou

Such a great and profound concept that I think we all should take into account when in relation with others. If you’re in a relationship, partnership, dating, or whatever, always consider the level of self-love they have as a benchmark for their own capacity of love. If they don’t love themselves, how can they ever give or receive love?


Being a great leader and creating a environment for organizations to thrive requires the courage to lead with vulnerability and authentically creating trust.

Similar books:


Rating: 4 out of 5.


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