As part of our leadership development class at Baylor Law, one of the assignments over the quarter is to read a book about leadership. Our definition of what constitutes a leadership book is broad for this purpose, so our students choose a wide variety of books, ranging from “leadership lite” (as Deborah Rhode called it) to biographies of famous leaders. The task to complete the assignment is for the students to write a short review covering the book and why someone who is interested in leadership might want to read it. So, we hope you enjoy Victoria Filoso’s review of Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
– Stephen Rispoli
Since her Ted Talk went viral in 2010, Brené Brown has established herself as the expert on vulnerability and leadership. Under the traditional, “old school” leadership mentality, these two terms were considered contradictory— leadership was about strength, dominance, and fearlessness. But Brown has flipped that notion on its head with her focus on how effective leadership is impossible without uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Dare to Lead explores how sustainable leadership requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. Brown seeks to inspire modern leaders to reject the traditional aggression associated with leadership, and to instead lean in to and understand our emotions in order to manage difficult situations.
Dare to Lead is divided into Brown’s four skill sets that make the best leaders: the ability to rumble with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. The most impactful section to me was the first. “Rumbling with vulnerability,” according to Brown, refers to how leaders deal with the fear and emotions we go through when things get uncertain and tough. Avoiding hard conversations, a lack of empathy, and increased shame are three ever-present conditions that hold us back from being courageous, the skill that Brown continually emphasizes leaders in our society need to master.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” It is second nature for most of us to be concerned with politeness. We are always assessing how others perceive and are constantly crafting ways to converse with others in a way that portrays us as “nice people.” Brown says that this practice of beating around the bush is actually holding us back from being effective leaders. Kindness is not being sweet; kindness is being honest and direct without being rude. In order to make progress we have to address weaknesses and being overly concerned with politeness is counter-intuitive to that. Leaders have to stop avoiding tough conversations because they are afraid of being unkind, because the only unkind thing is being unclear about what you want and need to reach your goals. Leaders need to have the courage to sit down and face those tough conversations head-on.
Courage is the entire foundation of leadership in Dare to Lead, but courage is impossible to achieve without rumbling with vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a weakness, and we need to stop thinking about it as one. Brown dedicates an entire section in her rumbling with vulnerability chapter on the “armor” we all wear to shield ourselves from fear and how armor is the problem, not the solution. Armored leadership drives perfectionism, operates from a scarcity mindset, squanders opportunities for joy and recognition, and rewards exhaustion as a status symbol. Daring leadership, on the other hand, acknowledges and embraces emotions and clarity, encourages empathy, and cultivates a culture of belonging rather than fitting-in. The daring mindset embraces the inevitable risks and fear that accompany leadership, whereas the armored mindset tries to deflect those risks and fears and they therefore stay unaddressed and unconquered. Brown says that being armored all the time should never be rewarded, and that instead we need to reward those who accept and venture into the unknown.
Being a law student through COVID-19, uncertainty has been the constant undertone of my thoughts this past year. After some cursory internet researching, I randomly selected Dare to Lead from the class syllabus to fulfill the book review requirement, but it ended up being one of the most beneficial tools to help me manage my anxiety surrounding the uncertainty. I was meant to read this book at this time, and I encourage everyone who is struggling to navigate our unpredictable world to read it. Because the truth is that the world will not get more certain once we overcome this pandemic. We are still going to face times where a good outcome is not guaranteed and we are still going to endure anxiety as a result –that is just the reality of being human and of being a lawyer. The only place we can make a difference is in our approach: we need to dive right into the water since we are going to get wet anyway. But if we dive in wearing armor, it will instantly drag us down to the bottom. The only way to swim across is to shed the armor, stay in the water, leave our eyes open, and keep moving forward. As Brown said, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”