I can understand why Brené Brown is so popular. The women in my life have been harassing me for some time that I need to watch Brown speaking on vulnerability through her TED Talk. That led me to scan through Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. So, I get why people like her. She speaks with a transparent authority and reading her work is like gliding on silk sheets. She has academic creds, but comes across with a sagely scholasticism that knows what she knows and bows to what she doesn’t; and she’s nice about it too.
That being the case, it’s a bit hard to critically review Dare to Lead because Brené Brown sort of drags you into her parlour without realising it. Rather than brutally reading for details and information, I found myself reading every word and every every anecdote. So that’s my main critique; Dare to Lead is not boring enough to be taken seriously.
What resonated for me is the notion that in the 21st century, we need a new type of leaders. Simon Sinek’s popular offering, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, covers similar material of developing trust and safety by understanding what motivates people by showing that the team matters more than the leader. Officers in the armed forces eat after their troops – so must all leaders. However Brown unpacks the idea of putting others ahead of yourself (which is a courageous act when done altruistically) by attending to vulnerability as the necessary requirement of courage; for most people insecurity and risk are not natural partners for success, but according the Brown they are the main ingredients. Interviewing American soldiers in 2014, she found that vulnerability was not only to be found only in the face of a starving child, but also in the courage of frontline soldier “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing,” writes Brown, “it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.” The difference between the two, is that the latter choose to face vulnerability and allow it to fuel courage. Those who launch out into ventures in which there are no safety nets are the most vulnerable people you will meet, but at the same time those people are the ones who create, innovate and shape the world.
The last paragraph caught me as I wrote it. I took note of Brown quoting C S Lewis.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
A few pages earlier Brown wrote,
If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their lives but who will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgment at those who dare greatly.
It’s all too easy to critique and complain. And, I am conscious that fall in to that trap if I am not reflective about my own state. That led me to reflect on perhaps the most confronting part of the book – the need for feedback: the willingness to offer it and receive it. Being less than honest with the people around you means they will be less than honest with you. But honesty with vulnerability is not the same as well articulated opinions. The first drives toward growth from care, while the latter is designed to assert power from position. And I wonder if for us leaders in New Zealand that isn’t one of our greatest failings.
Despite finding the BRAVING inventory interesting (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgemental and Generosity) the concepts of vulnerability and Feedback were most obvious in my reading, with Living into our values a close third. The ten “I know when I’m ready to give feedback” moments were helpful reflections on honest accountability to truth in working relationships, if not all relationships.
Lastly, I remember Andrea mentioning ‘curiosity’ from her review of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, and the following statement summed up something of the essence of Brave Work, Tough Conversations, and Whole Hearts.
“Curiosity says: No worries. I love a wild ride. I’m up for wherever this goes. And I’m in for however long it takes to get to the heart of the problem. I don’t have to know the answers or say the right thing, I just have to keep listening and keep questioning.”
 Brené Brown, “Vulnerability,” TED Talks, 2010, Accessed April 2019, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Kindle ed. (London: Penguin, 2013-01-17).
 Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Kindle ed. (Penguin, 2014). 68
 Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., Kindle ed. (London: Vermillion, 2018). loc 157 and 352
 Ibid. loc 380
 Ibid. loc 361
 Ibid. loc 2767-2811
 Ibid. loc 2450
Brown, Brené. “Vulnerability.” Last modified 2010, Accessed April 2019, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.
———. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Kindle ed. London: Penguin, 2013.
———. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Kindle ed. London: Vermillion, 2018.
Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Kindle ed. Penguin, 2014.