Review: Dare to Lead

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first time I’ve listened to Brené Brown read her own book, and quite honestly, I suspect that’s the real reason I enjoyed it so much. There’s no question that there’s much here that’s a restatement of material from other works, particularly Daring Greatly and Rising Strong: Brown herself says this book is about putting those into practice at work. It’s impossible as an author to get this exactly right, since some readers will be familiar with the earlier works and impatient to get to the new stuff, while others will need to be introduced to her basic concepts on shame, vulnerability etc. Honestly, her work is so good that I didn’t mind revisiting it.

What I DID mind was the constant use of the word ‘rumble’, as in ‘rumbling with vulnerability’ (a key phrase). Here’s how Brown defines it:

‘A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.’

Well, I can’t argue with the importance and value of this meaning, but the word ‘rumble’ just feels all wrong for this. A rumble is an ominous growl, like thunder, or a street fight, in most dictionaries, and I don’t care how stellar an author is, the Humpty Dumpty approach – ‘When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’ – is still the Humpty Dumpty approach.

But that niggle aside, there’s so much here of value, and a rare and beautiful balance between sensitivity and ballsiness. One of the points that resonated with me so powerfully that I actually yelled ‘YES!’ out loud in the car was the section on the seats in the arena, which is pure gold for any entrepreneur or leader:

‘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. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fear-mongering. If you’re criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in what you have to say.’

And if you’ve ever been responsible for managing change, the other stand-out section for me was on the way leaders must be open and vulnerable even through uncertainty, because the alternative is to open the door to misinformation and misunderstanding born of fear:

‘In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. It’s how we are wired. Meaning making is in our biology, and when we’re in struggle, our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense of what’s happening and gives our brain information on how best to self-protect. And it happens a hundred times a day at work. Our organizations are littered with stories that people make up because they don’t have access to information. If you’ve ever led a team through change, you know how much time, money, energy, and engagement bad stories cost.’

My reservations about the use of ‘rumble’ and the repetition aside, this is a book that is well worth your time and attention.

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