Brené Brown calls herself a researcher and storyteller, and she is also a social worker to the core. She has a BSW, MSW, and even a DSW (that’s a bachelors, masters and doctorate all in social work). It’s no wonder I am drawn to her materials since I am also a social worker and am very interested in understanding human behavior and relationships. I have thoroughly enjoyed a few of her other books, listened to her TED Talks, and the book for this week, Dare to Lead, did not disappoint. Out of all the leadership books we have read, this one brings out aspects of leadership qualities that are rather unique. In fact, she introduces her first points at “The Heart of Daring Leadership as: 1. You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck. 2. Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead. 3. 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.” The idea of vulnerability is revolutionary in the leadership world, but according to Brown, it is the key to being a courageous, daring leader. Ironically, while she was studying the topic of vulnerability, she had what she calls a breakdown. She had to put the research down and spend a year in therapy going to battle with vulnerability in her own life. At the end of it all, she discovered that whole-hearted people (including herself) believe they are worthy of love and belonging, and “what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.”
One of the aspects of her research and book that is inspiring and hopeful is she discovered that “courage is a collection of four skill sets that can be taught, observed, and measured. The four skill sets are: Rumbling with Vulnerability, Living into Our Values, Braving Trust, and Learning to Rise.” Of course, the first skill set is wrestling with the difficult task of being vulnerable. This tends to be counter-intuitive for most leaders but something that helps us overcome shame so we can focus on leading ourselves well. Ironically, the difference between my clients who progress quickly towards their goals of personal and emotional health and the ones who flounder is vulnerability. When they choose to get real with themselves and me, as their therapist, they can get past the self-protective measures they have had in place for years and allow themselves to feel safe with their pain and move to healing. The second skill set, living into our values, is another common theme to my therapy with clients. When people are living outside of their values, this causes quite a bit of emotional and physical distress in people (normal people who aren’t sociopaths usually have a difficult time living double lives). In the therapy world we call this cognitive dissonance, basically believing one thing and living another. When leaders know themselves well, we can get in touch with how well our behavior is aligned with our values and make adjustments if needed.
It was interesting how influential the following quote from Theodore Roosevelt was on her books Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
What a powerful quote that challenges us all to get in the ring without the fear of failure. I also love how it cautions us to not be the one who throws out criticism, especially if we are not willing to take the risk ourselves. Brown says it like this, “It’s pretty simple: If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall. Daring is not saying “I’m willing to risk failure.” Daring is saying “I know I will eventually fail, and I’m still all in.” I’ve never met a brave person who hasn’t known disappointment, failure, even heartbreak.” In the vain of being vulnerable, I have to admit I am usually averse to risk and I try to mitigate failure at every turn. I know this causes me to miss out on some opportunities, but my wife has helped to expand capacity to dare greatly. I also struggle to rely on others and be vulnerable, which is probably why I lack courage sometimes. I have to deliberately expose my weaknesses and lean on the people in my life who I trust. This is probably why the third skill set is Braving Trust, if we don’t walk the fine line of being vulnerable and putting trust to the test we will never truly gain the skill of being a courageous leader.
Many of us don’t realize the vulnerability we exhibit when we dare to love. Loving another human is the most beautiful leap of faith we take without even realizing it. The only problem is when that love gets betrayed or lost we often times get caught off guard with the level of vulnerability we feel. Unfortunately, I see this side of vulnerability in my office too often. People are broken because the person they were most vulnerable with has either broken that trust or has been taken from them tragically. This tends to dramatically affect people’s ability to trust and be vulnerable again with other humans, and it highlights how much they hardly thought twice about the risk they took to trust and be vulnerable with their last love. Because us humans are hard-wired to need this, it is always important to walk this scary road back to vulnerability with my clients so they can get this need met. My hope is that I can continue to grow in my own vulnerability and willingness to take risks so I can be the best leader and spouse I can be.