Book review: “Dare to lead” by brené brown

Review by Amanda Smith

image of dare to lead by brene brown

“Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown is a book for any person at any point in their career who wants to learn and practice brave and daring leadership. Brené defines a leader as someone who “takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” You don’t have to have direct reports or manage a company-wide initiative to show up as a leader. The path to daring leadership begins with leadership of self. I identify myself as an emerging leader who is focused on leadership of self. I’m in a place where I’m absorbing what good leadership looks like and developing my own leadership skills, both at the workplace and in my personal life.   

I love Brené’s work! Who doesn’t? As someone who historically was told to not bring my emotions to the workplace, Brené is the hero who tells me it’s courageous to show up with vulnerability. As someone who can suffer from self-doubt and imposter syndrome, she provides guidance on how to be more empathetic with myself as I experience the process of my growth. Listening to her podcast “Unlocking Us” has become a valuable source of support and comfort for me in the events of 2020. As expected, “Dare to Lead” did not disappoint. Here are some of my takeaways and tools that I’ve added to my personal leadership guidebook. 

“Asking for help is a power move.”

Brené’s research finds that leaders are more likely to delegate challenging and important work to team members who frequently ask questions and for help as they are more-likely to trust teammates who aren’t afraid to seek guidance when hitting roadblocks. As emerging leaders, we can put this pressure on ourselves to know the answer. If we don’t, we can feel inadequate and uncomfortable with bringing our questions to our supervisors as we fear receiving judgement for not solving problems on our own. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Seeking guidance shows you are working in partnership with your supervisor and building trust to help deliver on the same goals.

“It is a sign of strength to ask and a sign of strength to fight off judgement when other people raise their hands. It reflects a self-awareness that is an essential element in braving trust.”

In times of stress and uncertainty, form resilience by finishing this sentence: “The story I’m telling myself…”– When we don’t have all the data or understanding, it’s easy to fill in the blanks and create incorrect assumptions of ourselves, people and situations. This causes anxiety and leads to us to not own our stories. My mind is programmed to fill in the blanks and can sometimes unnecessarily assume the worst in times when I don’t have all the information. I appreciate this concept of staying calm and curious to evaluate what’s going on instead of making assumptions. Brené suggests if you choose one rising skill to put into practice, it is this one.  

Lead with Empathy – This one hit home for me. In my personal observances of what qualifies a leader as good versus bad is whether this person leads with empathy. Brené says,

“Empathy is not connecting to an experience. It is connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.”

One of my first jobs out of college provided me with several examples of old-school leadership styles, where leaders openly gossiped, punished vulnerability and promoted exclusivity. I recall numerous times of naively instilling trust in my supervisor and daring to be vulnerable with her in hopes of seeking guidance to issues I was facing. I remember her making me feel bad for caring too much, and leaving her office not feeling supported or heard. This kind of leadership style is what prompted me to move on and search for opportunities and organizations whose values are aligned with my own. I am proud to say that when my supervisor did ask me for feedback on her leadership style at my exit-interview, I told her she needs to develop her empathy muscle. I realized from that experience that we can achieve so much more and build trust at work by being whole-hearted, non-judgmental and understanding of others.

“Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid. At the same exact time.”

This is the final quote in the book. Brené often talks about straddling the paradoxes of our lives and encourages finding balance and comfort in the discomfort. Owning your fear and being daring and courageous will lead you to your unique and meaningful path. This is where the magic sauce is!

Questions for the Meerkat Mob Book Club:

– What are some of your takeaways from Dare to Lead or Brené Brown’s work? 

– What are some of the myths about vulnerability that are told in your workplace? 

– When was the last time at work when you faced uncertainty or risk with courage? 

– What stories do you tell yourself when you don’t have all the facts, and how do you change the narrative in support of yourself and your resilience?


Amanda Smith is a communications and project manager at The Nature Conservancy.

Join the Meerkat Mob Book Club for monthly reviews of the top books on leadership in our free online community  for women leading the charge to protect the planet.

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