Pursue What Matters
Episode 26: Dare to Lead Book Review
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
It’s 2019. And if you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, you’re probably living under a rock. But did you know that Brené Brown, the researcher that taught us it’s okay and actually essential to be vulnerable and name our shame has also conducted extensive research on what it takes to be a courageous leader. Join me as I share with you her findings.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:59
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work, Brené Brown burst onto our social conscience with her 2010 TED Talk, the power of vulnerability, in which she talked about her own spiritual awakening, ahem, breakdown to what she thought was a few 100 people. Well, Little did she know that the TED Talk would go on to be viewed millions of times. It is still as of last week, the third most popular TED talk of all time. It really is that good. And I will include a link to that TED talk in the show notes. So fast forward to today and Dr. Brené Brown, whom I’ll call Brené through the rest of the podcast. And so that’s what she typically goes by, is a household name and millions of men and women alike swear by the Council she gives. But let’s learn a little bit more about this great author. So first of all, she’s got a second TED Talk entitled listening to shame, which has also been incredibly popular. She leads the Brené Brown educational and research group as an entrepreneur dedicated to helping individuals live brave lives. Her work trains, therapists, organizational leaders and other specialists in bringing her work to the masses. Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington foundation Brené Brown endowed chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. And most recently completed a seven year study on courageous leadership. She is the author of five number one New York Times bestsellers, the Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead, which also debuted at number one on the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly lists. So this last book, Dare to Lead, which is based on her research about courageous leaders, is the book we are going to review today. But wait, there’s more. Did I mention she has a Netflix special, so this came out just a few months ago. So if you’re a Netflix subscriber, make sure to check that out. Because it’s a it’s really great, she’s speaking. And it kind of reviews all of her research in a nutshell, plus you get great engagement from her. She’s a wonderful storyteller. So Brené is a coveted speaker and engages audiences with her no-nonsense Texas style, what you see is what you get. And I just had the privilege of spending three days being trained by Brené and let me tell you, what you see is what you get. She is authentic, she is brave, and she is kind, she is the real deal. So it was such a treat for me to learn from her. And one of the things that she said that I really appreciated, and it really rings true, is that she believes one of the reasons she has been so successful is that people see her struggling with the work, they see that she is real and human and authentic and not trying to present herself as perfectly put together. And I just love this. And I think that this is so true, especially when it comes to work around vulnerability, connection and learning to to be courageous, right? Like if she were to be up there as the picture of perfection and having it all figured out. We would all just leave the auditorium, that she struggles with it. And she’s not afraid to talk about her challenges with it. And that makes us really want to be open to doing the work. And it’s awesome. So one of the reasons we are drawn to Brené’s work is because she gives herself and us permission not to have everything figured out. And then you know, that very act helps us figure things out. So she’s generous, she’s funny, and she’s wicked smart.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:39
So now let’s jump into the meat of the book dare to lead which is really focused on what it takes to lead courageously and it’s so good. It’s such a great book. So based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, dare to lead is an empirically based courage building program designed to be facilitated by organizational development professionals. So and The most significant finding from her latest research is that courage is a collection of four skill sets that are teachable, measurable and observable. So that’s pretty cool. The data LEAD program focuses on developing these courage building skills through workshops, training, trainings, and coaching to help individuals, teams and organizations move from armored leadership to daring leadership. And so, you know, the training that I was recently doing with Brené down in Texas, was to become a certified facilitator of the Dare to Lead program. So I think there are about 400 of us worldwide, who are now certified to work with leaders, executive teams, management teams, and whole organizations to teach this really excellent curriculum, so that we can create more courageous workplaces. And so this Dare to Lead program is all based on the research from the book that we’re going to be reviewing. And so if you want to learn more about how you can bring this curriculum to your organizations that you know, check out the show notes, and you can find a link to more information there because I’d love to come train your organization or your management team or your C team. Because it’s such great curriculum, one of the things that really sets this program apart from so many of the programs available out there is that it is completely evidence based. So these findings are all derived from extensive research. And they track really well with other findings that we know impact growth at work, such as emotional intelligence, giving and receiving feedback, and of course, Crucial Conversations. And of course, the concepts just makes so much sense. So intuitively, we get it. And yet, they can be so hard to put into practice, which is why the training can be so helpful because you build accountability into your organization. Plus, you know, the book offers a great deeper dive on all the concepts offered in the dare to lead program. So of course, if you want to learn more about bringing this training to your workplace, I’d love to talk with you and craft a plan that works for your needs. And I’ll include the link for all those details in my show notes. And that’s the cool thing about the program is like I can totally tailor to your needs.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:13
But it was funny. So I was at the gym talking to buddy, you know, we were just on the on the bikes. And we were talking about this curriculum. And I was telling him that one of the things that Brené Brown says in the book is she says I dare you to call these soft skills, there is nothing soft about them like this is some of the hardest work. And he was telling me about his bosses. And he said they never have hard conversations. He said they just avoid difficult conversations until it gets to the breaking point. And he says it’s so difficult because people do not get the feedback that they need. And he says it gets pretty dysfunctional actually. And I think it you know, his experience just highlights the experience of so many people in organizations where it’s just, you know, it becomes really ineffective when we don’t develop and consistently utilize these skills. So anyway, it’s really good, good stuff.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:12
Okay, so now, let’s focus on how this book can strengthen love and work. Right? How can this strengthen your leadership? So the research started with Brené and her team asking 1000s of leaders one question. So it’s a long question, because of course, she’s a researcher. “What, if anything about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment, where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges, and an insatiable demand for innovation?” Okay, so it was a big question. But there was one very clear answer that came back from the research and this was it. We need braver leaders and more courageous leaders. Okay, so, so there you go, more courageous leaders. So then Brené and her team tried to pin down what it means to be courageous at work. And this is where things got really dicey. So it was really hard for leaders to pin down what it means to be courageous. But one thing that they could all agree on was what the absence of courage looks like, or what undermines courage at work. So think about this for yourself. You can probably think of examples of behaviors that erode your trust in others, or times when you see that someone avoided a difficult conversation instead of doing what was right. And these are examples where leaders lacked courage. So think about the example that I just gave you of my buddy on the bike at the gym, where he talked about his two bosses. who avoid having difficult conversations, they do not say what needs to be sad. This is an example where leaders lack courage.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:11
So then from there, Brené and her team worked extensively with MBA students at three different programs throughout the country to better pin down these courage building skill sets, and then they they came up after all of that, right, so lots of extensive filtering. And they came up with for courage building skill sets, that are teachable, observable and measurable. Okay, so those four skill sets are rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. So I want to talk about the heart of daring leadership and some of the key points from the research. And you know, there’s definitely, there’s so many key points, and there’s no way to cover them all. But I do want to cover some of the highlights. So we’re not going to get through all of the four per the four courage building skill sets, but I want to go over some of the highlights of them. So yeah, let’s jump in and share some of them.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:15
Okay, so first of all, Brené talks about the heart of daring leadership. And these are some of the key points that are really the foundation for this research. So first of all, you cannot get to courage, without rumbling with vulnerability. And she says, embrace the suck. So at the heart of daring leadership is a deeply human truth that is rarely acknowledged, especially at work. And that is this that courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. So most of us feel brave and afraid at the exact same time. We feel vulnerable, sometimes all day long. And so you know, we’ve got to learn to lean into vulnerability, and embrace the suck, right, it can be painful, and we need to learn to do it anyway. So she uses the word rumble. And she takes that to mean it’s a discussion, conversation, or meeting 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 take a break and circle back when necessary to be fearless in owning our parts. And as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches to listen with the same passion, with which we want to be heard. So that is a key point, you can be scared and courageous at the same time. And usually we are. So the foundational skill of courage building is the willingness and ability to rumble with vulnerability. Without this core skill, the other three skill sets are impossible to put into practice. So she, this is a really important point, our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability. So if you as a leader need to be perfect, you will never be a courageous leader. It’s that simple. So the goal of the book is to give you language and specifics on the tools, practices and behaviors that are critical for building the muscle memory for living these concepts. So that’s really the overarching goal.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:38
And then, a second main point of the heart of daring leadership, is that self awareness and self love, matter, who we are is how we lead. And so she said, we often think of courage as an inherent trait, however, it is less about who people are, and more about how they behave, and show up in difficult situations. So feeling fear is not a barrier. The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear. The real barrier to daring leadership is our armor, the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability. So that’s one of the core concepts of the book is the armor that we put on to protect ourselves from vulnerability. And then another main point of the book and of daring leadership, is that courage is contagious, to scale, daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations. We have to cultivate a culture in which brave work tough conversations and whole hearts are the expectation and armor is not necessary or rewarded. So she says we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected, daring leaders must care for and be connected to the people they lead. And so he or she really gets to the heart of the matter, which is creating culture. So building a culture where we do not have undermining behaviors. And that’s, you know, essential. Anyone who leads understands in the end the truth of that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:42
So the next point that I want to highlight is another key that she talks about through the book. And this is around vulnerability. So Brené talks about six myths of vulnerability. And, you know, as I just mentioned, with the heart of daring leadership, you’ve got as a leader, you’ve got to be willing to lean into vulnerability. And she talks about six myths of vulnerability that will really undermine your ability to be a courageous leader. So I would just want to go over those quickly. So myth one, is that vulnerability is weakness. And of course, she says, This is not true at all. Myth two, I don’t do vulnerability. She says, if you’re human, you do vulnerability. Myth three, I can go it alone. Again, she says, That’s not true. We none of us were meant to, meant to go it alone. And myth four, you can engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability. And she says that this is like, absolutely not possible, like the heart of vulnerability is uncertainty. Right? And so there’s no way to engineer uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability. Okay, myth five: trust comes before vulnerability. And that’s not true. Either trust and vulnerability really happen in a stepwise fashion? And, you know, it’s a chicken and egg debate. So how do I know if I can trust someone enough to be vulnerable? And how can I can I build trust without ever risking vulnerability. And the truth is that we need to trust to be vulnerable. And we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust, and that this happens in small moments. So we don’t need these huge displays of trust. But trust actually happens in small moments. And the analogy that she uses is that of the marble jar, so if you read the book, you can become familiar with that metaphor. And then myth six, is vulnerability is disclosure. So this idea of maybe oversharing. And you know, she says, that is absolutely not the case. That, you know, vulnerability includes boundaries, vulnerability includes container building. First, it’s not, vulnerability is not about oversharing. vulnerability is not just about disclosure. And that’s actually really important to keep in mind. So when we think about vulnerability, some of the questions that you might ask is, what does support for me look like? So you ask the person, what does support look like so that you can be respectful of their needs? And that setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why. And that’s exactly what we are interested in with boundaries.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:58
Okay, so now I want to move on to another key point from the book. And this is the call to courage. So this is actually one of my favorite points, because I think it really resonates for many of us. And it’s, it’s actually can be a hard one. But this is the idea that we’ve got to be willing to face what it is we fear that we’ve got to stop making excuses, stop shutting down conversations, and face our fears. And she uses the analogy of the cave, and Luke Skywalker, and I don’t know if you remember this from the Empire Strikes Back, but Luke Skywalker has to go into the cave, and he goes into the cave and he fights Darth Vader, and then I think what happens is Darth Vader actually turns into Luke Skywalker and so he ends up having to fight himself, but it’s this idea of Lucas staring at his own head on the ground. So he, he fights Darth Vader, and then he ends up killing Darth Vader. And it’s actually he turns into himself. And this idea that we have to be willing to face our biggest fears, in order to accept that call to courage. And if we’re not willing to face our biggest fears, then we’re not going to be able to be a courageous leader. And so Brené also gives the example of herself when she has to face her fear that she can’t be an effective leader. And that it’s easy for her to blame her team. And to kind of cast off blame on them or to say, like, Oh, I’m just lousy at, I’m just lousy at planning timelines, where the reality is, she doesn’t think she’s a good leader, and so she doesn’t plan very well. And if we can get straight with ourselves about our own fears, then we can start to tackle them head on, and actually accept the call to courage, and how important that is, so that we don’t get in our own way. So part of that is this idea that clear is kind and unclear, is unkind. So she talks about a willingness to tackle our fears head on.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:33
So this is a very clear finding from the research. So and it’s, it’s a finding that many of us leaders like to avoid, and that is, 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. I’m going to repeat that one more time because it is so important. 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. Can I get an amen on this? Wow, this happens all the time. So how does this happen? Right? We see unproductive behavior. But what do we tell ourselves, we tell ourselves, it will get better. You know, the person just needs a little bit more time, they’ll figure it out, when really what they need is a leader who is willing to attend to their fears and feelings. They need a leader who is willing to be clear with them. They need a leader who’s willing to give them direct feedback. And, you know, the truth is that clear can be painful. But most of us don’t do clear in our culture. You know, we were vague. We send mixed messages. But we’ve got to remember that clear is kind and unclear is unkind. So if you don’t attend to fears and feelings, you’re going to waste a lot of time managing ineffective behavior. And it’s so true. And you know, I’m sure we all have so many examples of this one. It’s just it’s kind of a plague. So now I want to address one more key finding from the research. There’s so many but I mean, I talk about the vulnerability armory because this is a real key one that Brené Brown talks about. And it is one of those toxic cultures that comes up for a lot of us.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:50
So she talks about 16 examples of armored leadership that emerged from the research along with the Daring Leadership response to each and what she means by armored leadership is the way that we protect ourselves from vulnerability. And then daring leadership are the ways that we lean into vulnerability and lead with courage. And I just want to give you some examples of the differences. So armored leadership would be driving perfectionism and fostering fear of failure, where daring leadership is modeling and encouraging healthy, striving, empathy and self compassion. armoured leadership is working from scarcity and squandering opportunities for joy and recognition and daring leadership is practicing gratitude and celebrating milestones and victories. armored leadership is not mean daring leaders is setting boundaries and finding real comfort. Armored leadership is being a knower and being right. Whereas daring leadership is being a learner and getting it right. Armored leadership is hiding behind cynicism. And daring leadership is modeling clarity, kindness and hope. armoured leadership is using power over daring leadership is using power with power to and power within. And then the last one that I want to talk about, although there are several more, our merch leadership is hustling for our worth. Whereas daring leadership is knowing our value. And boy, there are so many ways that these show up.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:49
So I want to, I want to jump into a little more detail just on a couple of these. So I want to talk about driving perfectionism and fostering fear of failure. And this can be a strong cultural piece in a lot of organizations. So I want to I want to maybe talk to you a little bit about what perfectionism is not and this comes directly from Browns research, and her writing. So perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. So it’s not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. Perfectionism is not the self-protection we think it is. It’s a 20 ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us when in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen. Perfectionism is not self improvement. It is at its core about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionist grew up being praised for achievement and performance. And somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system. I am, what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please perform perfect prove, whereas healthy striving is self focused. How can I improve perfectionism is other focused, what will people think? Perfectionism is a hustle. perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, and I love this I think this is so compelling. Research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized, keeps us outside the arena meaning outside of being courageous, where healthy competition and striving unfolds.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:30
Last, perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. perfectionism is a function of shame. So Brené defines perfectionism as self destructive, and an addictive belief that if I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment and shame. It’s addictive, because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. And so we get caught in a vicious cycle of trying harder. And, of course, we’re never good enough. And perfectionism sets us up to fill shame, judgment and blame. So instead of perfectionism, daring leadership models and encourages healthy striving, empathy and self compassion. And so we really, the goal is to get very clear about where as a team we’re the most likely to get swallowed by perfectionism, how it shows up and how we distinguish perfectionism from healthy striving for excellence. And that’s really the difference, healthy striving for excellence. So we want to be reaching our potential, and striving for excellence is always a great target. So are there ways that we can check in with one another that work for everyone? Are there flags, warning signs or indicator lights that we can all take responsibility for spotting? So she has said that she’s seen teams that are willing to have these conversations, make profound changes, grow closer, increase their performance and build trust in the process. And so recognizing that perfectionism actually undermines performance and achievement. And taking an approach of healthy striving actually helps you to reach your potential and increases your achievement and your performance. So really powerful research there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:30
Okay, so as you can see, this is such great material. So Dare to Lead is a powerful book. The research is stellar based on seven years of studying leaders. Like I said, this is material that can be brought into your organizations. I am a certified Dare to Lead facilitator, I would love to bring this training into your organizations. I can do keynote addresses I can do to our programs, I can do half day, full day, I can do it over a series of weeks. It’s really awesome material. That’s all evidence based. So if you want to learn more about that, definitely head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode and links to the dare to lead programs that I offer. And also I’ll have some links to Brené Brown’s, TED Talks and some of her other resources including links to this book, because you gotta you got to read this book or listen to this book, because it’s really excellent. So head on over to the website to check out the show. notes at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-26 one more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-26. And also, if you subscribe on iTunes or Spotify, that’s great. That’s those are a couple ways to follow me and I would love it if you give me a review it makes makes it available to more people they can find me. I appreciate your support. And I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on my website or I’m on Instagram at Dr. Melissa Smith. So thanks again. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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