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

 Many are familiar with Dr. Brené Brown’s* work – we’ve watched her viral TED talks here, here, or here.  Many have read her booksThe Gifts of Imperfection, Rising Strong, or Braving the Wilderness – but may not have thought much about how her ideas might be applied in a work setting. Enter Dare to Lead. This book takes Dr. Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability and applies her ideas to leading in organizations.

Is there any topic that anyone wants to talk about less at work than shame and vulnerability? Go ahead… I’ll wait. No? No. This is an incredibly difficult topic for many to engage with and one that Dr. Brown resisted herself. In the Prologue to Dare to Lead, Dr. Brown discusses the twin research aims of her work in organizational development and vulnerability and how she was very sure they would never intersect. But she found that they do meet because those of us in the work place who want to go deeper and do more need her help to learn how to become the leaders we want to see in the work world.

Dare to Lead is organized into four parts, but the main thrust of the book is in Part 1: Rumbling with Vulnerability. I’ll give you the good news and the bad news. The bad news: There are a lot of feelings involved. And talking. If you are a person who avoids uncomfortable discussions, this is going to be a rough ride. The good news: It is worth it. If you are willing to be vulnerable, you are going to develop a team that is willing to be honest because you’ve been honest with them. You won’t have yes-people afraid to tell you the truth.

The book goes on to discuss (more cursorily than the Rumbling with Vulnerability section) living into your values, braving trust, and learning to rise. Living into your values will ask you to determine what it is that really drives the bus for you. Why do you do what you do? Braving trust discusses how trust is built between team members. BRAVING is an acronym for the Braving Inventory – Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Nonjudgement and Generosity. Walking through this inventory helps teams know where the weak spots are in work relationships. And learning to rise encourages team members to know how to get back up after a failure. Daring to lead takes courage. It is easier to get back up if you’ve been taught how to fall.

I recently wrote on this blog about the future of people in libraries in a world that is increasing automated. Dr. Brown speaks to this on page 75:

“The hopeful news is there are some tasks that humans will always be able to do better than machines if we are willing to take off our armor and leverage our greatest and most unique asset – the human heart. Those of us willing to rumble with vulnerability, live into our values, build trust, and learn to reset will not be threatened by the rise of the machines, because we will be part of the rise of daring leaders.”

In all, this is tough, but great, work you’ll be doing. And you don’t have to do it alone. Dr. Brown has provided extensive, free resources on the book’s web page, including a workbook to go along with the book. If you are ready to think more deeply about this topic – to consider taking off your armor and becoming the real and authentic leader your organization needs you to be, consider attending the Annual Meeting of MAALL on Oct. 17-19 in St. Louis. Two (awesome!) law librarians, Resa Kerns and Cindy Shearrer, will be discussing the book at the conference in their Professional Reading without the Reading program. We’ll see you in the arena.


*I know that many are familiar with her work and know her as Brené. But I want to show respect for her academic work, so will continue to refer to her as Dr. Brown.