Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and the author of “Dare to Lead: How to Overcome Fear and Take Control of Your Life.” Brown’s new book challenges conventional wisdom about leadership and provides readers with a new way to think about the role of fear in our lives. Brown argues that the fear of failure is one of the most common inhibitors to our success. She offers practical advice on how to overcome this fear and lead with confidence.
Leadership is a critical skill for any individual, organisation, or society. There are many different types of leadership, but the most important quality for any leader is courage. Courage is the willingness to face fear and uncertainty, and to act in spite of them. It is also the ability to stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s hard.
In order to build trust, Brené asserts, and I agree, that we need to be vulnerable. We need to be willing to share our thoughts and feelings with others, even if they make us feel uncomfortable. This can be difficult, but it’s important if we want to create strong relationships.
I particularly liked her thoughts about living with our values. The recognition that we will be, from time to time, at odds with our values is a realism, and striving to align more often with our values is a skill we should hone. From my own point of view, I think that this is one of the characteristics of masters of their art. Experts may stumble over their values occasionally, but masters rarely do. The consistency stands people out, so if you are striving for mastery then this is an area on which a strong focus will help.
When Brown discusses feedback in the context of living with one’s values, there are some powerful lessons to learn. Not least of which is her recognition that “choosing politeness over respect is NOT respectful”. We all recognise that people have feelings, and we should also recognise that we are not responsible for those feelings. The important aspect she recognises is that we need to create the environment for people to feel whatever they feel without judgement or punishment/reward for them. On the receiving end of feedback, Brown asks “How do we stay aligned with our values when we are receiving feedback – regardless of the skill of the person delivering it?” I think this is a really important question that requires thought and practice long before we actually receive important feedback from someone whose skill is low, but whose content is critical.
Towards the end of the book, Brown discusses some elements of applying vulnerability, of living with our values, and leading. In this context, she makes a really important point, that “in the absence of data, we will always make up stories”. Two questions stood out for me, “Do I have enough information to freak out about this situation?” and “If I do have enough data, will freaking out help” – probably not, but it’s always worth checking.
My final conclusion was to let people know if I don’t have enough data, and the stories that my own mind is then making up. “The story I am telling myself is … what have I misunderstood?”
This is an important book, a book that will leave you with questions as well as answers. It is a book that demands thought and provides the substance to let those thoughts develop. If you are in business, then this is a book that I recommend you read, and I suspect you’ll enjoy the experience when you do and become a better leader – of others, and of yourself as a result.