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Book:  Dare to Lead

Author:  Brene Brown

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation: Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead : brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. New York: Random House.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Being clear is kind. Being unclear is unkind. Feeding people half-truths to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind. (pg. 48)

  2. Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior. We must find the courage to get curious and surface emotions and emotional experiences that people can't articulate. (pg. 67)

  3. 85 percent of people interviewed could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves as learners. What makes this worse is that half of those recollections left "creativity" scars. The participants could point to a specific incident where they were told they weren't good writers, artists, musicians, etc. On the flip side, the same data showed that more than 90 percent of people could name a teacher, coach, or school administrator who reinforced their self worth and helped them to believe in themselves and their ability. School leaders have enormous power and influence, and how they use that power and influence changes people. For better or worse. (pg. 132)​


Other Key Ideas:​

I had always assumed that trust is earned in big moments and through really grand gestures, not the more simple things like a friend remembering small details in your life. It turns out that trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection. (pg. 32)​

When delivering tough criticism, there is absolutely no benefit to pushing through an unproductive conversation unless there's an urgent, time-sensitive issue at hand. I've never regretted taking a short break or circling back after a few hours of thinking time. I have, however, regretted many instances where I pushed through to get it over and done with. Those self-serving instincts end up costing way more time than a short break. (pg. 48)​

When trying to make a group decision consider using the Turn & Learn approach. We all get Post-it notes and write down our opinion on a decision. Once everyone has written down an opinion in private, we count to three and show our answers. This practice controls for the "halo effect" created when everyone sees what the person with the most influence in the room wants and follows suit. It also controls for the "bandwagon effect" - that very human instinct to follow suit even when you disagree. It's tough to be the last to share when everyone is on board and getting increasingly excited about an idea. (pg. 55)

One of our most favorite rumble tools is the time-out. When difficult conversations become unproductive, call a time-out. Give everyone ten minutes to walk around outside or catch their breath. Consider saying "I need time to think about what I am hearing. Can we take an hour and circle back after lunch?" (pg. 68)

Groups need to stop and celebrate one another and their victories, no matter how small. Yes, there's more work to be done, and things could go sideways in an hour, but that will never take away from the fact that we need to celebrate an accomplishment right now. (pg. 84)

While a cynic might argue that someone who clings to hope is a sucker, this type of defense mechanism comes from pain. Often, people's cynicism is related to despair. The problem with cynicism and sarcasm is that they are typically system- and culture-wide - it's just so easy to take shots at other people. As brave leaders, it is essential not to reward or allow it. (pg. 94)

There are two forms of criticism that can be hard to recognize: nostalgia and the invisible army. Sometimes when a new idea hits the table, the knee-jerk reaction is "that's now how we do it" or "we've never done it that way." People use history to criticize different thinking. We can also use the invisible army: "We don't want to change course," or "We don't like the direction you're taking the project." I had the invisible army, and if you use it with me I will drill you down on exactly who makes up your we. Voicing and owning our concern is brave. Pretending that we represent a lot of folks when we don't is cowardly. (pg. 94)

When a manager focuses on compliance and control it is normally about fear and power. Those managers reduce work to tasks and to-dos, then spend their time ensuring that people are doing exactly what they want how they want - and then constantly calling them out when they're doing it wrong. They use the fear of "getting caught" as motivation. Not only is this ineffective, it shuts down creative problem solving. It also leaves people miserable, questioning their abilities, and desperate to leave. (pg. 99)

In the midst of uncertainty and fear, leaders have an ethical responsibility to acknowledge the discomfort but not fan it, to share information and not to inflate or fake it. Daring leaders acknowledge, name, and normalize discord and difference without fueling divisiveness or benefiting from it. There is incredible relief and power in naming and normalizing fear and uncertainty. (pg. 104)

If we want to live a life of meaning and contribution, we have to become more intentional about cultivating sleep and play. We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one. To weave this into office culture, leaders need to model appropriate boundaries by shutting off email at a reasonable time and focus in on themselves and their family. Do not celebrate people who work through the weekend, who brag that they were tethered to their computers over Christmas break. Ultimately, it's unsustainable behavior, and it can lead to burnout and anxiety. It also creates a culture of workaholic competitiveness that's detrimental for everyone. (pg. 106)

Need to have ongoing difficult and vulnerable conversations about the different cultural messages and expectations that corrode trust and psychological safety when they are not identified and discussed. There are almost always conversations about cultural norms and differences. No one wants to talk about these issues because they're awkward and uncomfortable. But as a leader you know that they are critically important, and it's your job as a leader to push through the discomfort. It's never easy, but we’re always grateful and stronger when we're done. (pg. 116)

Always give people a "way out with dignity." This means that you need to remember the human and pay attention to feelings. Of course, leaders must make the thoughtful business decisions that are right for the company - definitely do what makes sense to achieve the company's goals. And, while you're doing what you need to do, always hold the human in mind. Keep that person who will be impacted by your decision squarely in front of you. This person has a family, a career, and a life that will be affected. When you're delivering the news, be kind, be clear, be respectful. Be generous. Can you let the person resign rather than be fired? Can you provide severance pay? Ask the person how they want to let colleagues know about their departure and follow their lead on that if possible. (pg. 133)

The most important words you can say to someone or you can hear from someone when you're in struggle are "Me too. You're not alone." That is different from "Oh yeah? Me too. Listen to my story...." (pg. 155)

You have no idea how much it means to someone when you circle back and say, "You shared something hard with me, and I wish I had shown up in a different way. I really care about you and what you shared. Can I try again?" There's so much power in "Oh man, I feel you", "I know that feeling and it sucks", and "I've been in a similar place and it's really hard." (pg. 157)

In tough conversations leaders need the grounded confidence to stay tethered to their values, respond rather than react emotionally, and operate from self-awareness, not self-protection. Having the skills to hold the tension and discomfort allows us to give care and attention to others. (pg. 168)

I've learned one way to help people understand how much you care is to share your story. As a leader, I no longer check my personal life at the door. In fact, sharing stories and leading through the lens of multiple perspectives has made me more approachable.. By sharing my story and my why for leading, I helped my staff understand my purpose, passion, and commitment to courage. (pg. 179)

Don't separate professional values and personal values - we only have one set of values. We don't shift our values based on context. We are called to live in a way that is aligned with what we hold most important regardless of the setting or situation. (pg. 187)

In our experience, only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold them accountable. If you're not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors it's better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. (pg. 190)

I did a little experiment several years ago to see how long the intense, in-the-moment discomfort lasts during difficult conversations. After a couple months of tracking it, I landed on eight seconds. In most situations, there are only eight seconds of discomfort. (pg. 193)

Discussions about race can be difficult. You first listen about race. You will make a lot of mistakes. It will be super uncomfortable. And there's no way to talk about it without getting some criticism. But you can't be silent. To opt out of conversations about privilege and oppression because they make you uncomfortable is the epitome of privilege. (pg. 195)

Mastery at anything requires feedback. I don't care what you're trying to master - it always requires feedback. When someone is giving you tough feedback that is hard to hear just keep telling yourself "This is the path to mastery, this is the path to mastery." (pg. 203)

"Assumption of positive intent" is a very popular core value that we see adopted across diverse organizations. It basically means that we will extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. As straightforward as it is, I can tell you that it's a skill set that is not easy to learn and practice. I've never seen it explicitly taught in an organization that holds it as a value. (pg. 213)

We don't earn trust be demanding it with "Trust me!" We earn it when we say "How is your mom's chemotherapy going?" or "I've been thinking a lot about what you asked, and I want to dig in deeper and figure this out with you." If you haven't made the investment and there's nothing substantial there, there's no way to duct-tape it together. You cannot establish trust in two days when you find yourself in organizational crisis; it's either already there or its not. (pg. 232)

In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. It's how we are wired. When we're in struggle, our default is to come up with a story that makes sense of what's happening. Because we are compelled to make stories, we are often compelled to take incomplete stories and run with them. However, in a culture of courage, you give people as many facts as you can, and when you can't tell them everything, you acknowledge that you're telling them as much as you can and that you will continue to keep them in the loop with information. Clarity absolutely reduces story making and conspiracy theories. (pg. 258)

If you are struggling in your mind with a "conspiracy theory" against you it can help to write the story down and ask yourself if this makes sense. Does this look right? Writing slows the winds and calms the seas. And if you notice that you aren't in rhythm with someone consider going up to someone and saying "I need some help - I'm making up in my mind that you are mad about...Can we talk about that?" If we aren't willing to get vulnerable then we start to fill in the blanks with our fears and our worst-case-scenario planning. (pg. 262)

Without real conversation around feedback, there is less learning and more defensiveness. Because it's human nature to turn on some level of self-protection when dealing with setbacks and receiving feedback, it's important to circle back with employees to ensure that the intention of the message matched what was actually heard. (pg. 266)

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