What I am reading: Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Why I read (listened to) it

If you are not familiar with Dr. Brené Brown’s research into vulnerability, I would start with her first book, Daring Greatly. The first book approaches the topic in the space of personal and broader inter-human relationships. Dare to Lead is Dr. Brown’s guide towards bringing your whole self to the workplace and creating a space where real work and real risk can take place. Neither book is a comfortable read if you, like me and most others, armor yourself when you walk out the door every day. The first book made me aware of my armor, so I picked up the second book to see how it impacted my life as a leader and a software engineer.

What I learned from it

Vulnerability and code

Brené Brown describes vulnerability as how you show up when you can’t control the outcome. If that doesn’t speak to a developer, I don’t know what does. When we ship code, we never know the outcome. The best test plan will still miss cases and lead to bugs and the best product can still fall flat on its face. As a developer, we can either shield ourselves in perfectionism and never deliver or put it out there and learn from it.

Clear is kind

When giving feedback to a peer or setting expectations with someone who reports to you, clarity is essential. When giving feedback, dancing around words to protect someone’s feelings can lead to mistrust.  Or worse, it may water down the message so that nothing comes through. Brown says that sanitizing words remove the human emotion and if you remove emotion from the language, you end up making decisions based on emotion (e.g. fear and confusion).

Remove your armor

As a leader you should work hard to create a culture where folks can be their true selves at work. To do this, you need to be conscious of what drives you and those around you to shield themselves. Brown describes the different leadership styles as “armored leadership vs daring leadership.” While an armored leader might insist on being right, a daring leader will want to get it right. Or, an armored leader will hustle for their worth, but a daring leader will know their value and build up those around them. Brown lists 16 of these traits which I have found valuable to look for in myself and the leaders around me.

Final Thoughts

Brené Brown’s books push you to understand yourself so that you can be more open to others. The hierarchical and authoritarian approach to running a team or a company is on its way out. The new style of leadership takes a lot of work!

This quote, found in Brown’s book, really hit it home for me:

“We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.” 

― James Hollis, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life

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