Brave Leadership | Book Review

What is the impact you are here to have on your team,
on your organization, on your friends and family,
on your community, on this world? (p. 265)

Kimberly Davis shares her Brave Leadership Manifesto on page 267. Read that first, then again after finishing this bold and refreshing work. Davis weaves her personal transition from actor to leader with many revelations we likely have encountered (or will). After defining Brave Leadership, Davis details numerous barriers, usually self-imposed, that prevent our path to courageous leadership, and how to overcome them (pushing through).

Consider (pp. 41-42) how dramatically our creativity vanishes as we age:

98% genius level of creativity | 3-5 years old
30% genius level of creativity | 8-10 years old
12% genius level of creativity | 13-15 years old
 2% genius level of creativity  | over 24 years old

Answering “What happens to our creativity?” is essentially the driving force in Davis’ reflections. This review highlights our outdated, limited and ineffective model of connecting with others, how we tend to hold ourselves back, and suggests integrating Davis’ findings into leadership lessons we have learned, especially use of our Personal Leadership Philosophy.

What is Brave? | A New Motivation and Leadership Model is Needed

In our Coaching to Develop Leaders workshop, we viewed The Teddy Stallard Story, which poignantly reminds us we never know when something we say or do (or do not) may affect someone’s life forever. Davis concludes the same: Like it or not, your behavior and actions (whether conscious or unconscious) have an effect on the people around you (p. 9). 

Or put another way, think of Brave as an active path (p. 13). Leadership, likewise, is best thought of as a verb, also as a description of activities; rather than a position, noun, or description of a group or class of people. What is means to be brave at work today requires more of us than ever before, which can feel incredibly scary and uncomfortable (p. 17).

Reminiscent of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Davis recalls the classical manager’s job was to make sure that people did what they were told to do by the time they were told to get it done (p. 17). Like many of us, she has found people are tired of playing [that] game. All the posturing – what vulnerability and shame expert  Brené Brown calls jockeying for attention– false pleasantries, snarky comments, and decisions made by spreadsheets that don’t consider the human toll, have left people leery (p. 24). This nicely sums up our current state of affairs. 

Let’s think about motivation. Davis stresses that to want is powerful (p. 28). Back in the paycheck-exchange era, it was a lot easier to motivate someone with a carrot or a stick because whether or not they wanted to give you their best didn’t matter quite as much (p. 28). Davis views our contemporary motivation model with want at the center of commitment, loyalty, engagement, satisfaction, creativity, passion and joy. Want transforms deadlines into achievement, obstacles into adventures, and colleagues into collaborators (p. 34). 

Barriers to Brave | We Hold Ourselves Back | Conflict Avoidance

Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success compares a growth mindset with a fixed mindset (p. 47), as Davis concurs this is a major internal obstacle for many of us. Rather than seeing that talent, looks, and achievements can be cultivated – that a single incident doesn’t define you – people with a fixed mindset decide about themselves and others, limiting what is possible (p. 48). Once you think about this, you’ll probably catch yourself slipping into a fixed mindset from time to time. It’s sneaky.

As we discover in numerous Leadership Excellence Course workshops, many of us are conflict avoiders. We unconsciously shrink ourselves back to live within the lines, exchanging the desire to express who we are uniquely for comfort (p. 53). This surely affects engagement. Davis asks us: 

“How many of you, when your boss asks you if
you’re having any problems, say no, even though
you’re really having problems?” (p. 60)

Davis revisits Maslow’s hierarchy, describing our core needs as human beings. Think of our Energize2Lead colors, particularly dominant (social) yellow colors. The colors mean more than a social temperament. Belonging feels good. Not belonging, not so much (p. 67). It seems many of us have been trained not to connect, when in fact, that is what is needed most. However, we are psychologically designed to avoid vulnerability at all costs (p. 71). It’s more than just conflict avoidance, it’s actually much deeper. Davis calls us out: Vulnerability is our biggest barrier to brave and the gateway to our most powerful self (p. 76).

Pushing Through to Brave | WIWDD | Live a Leadership Philosophy

This section is the heart of the book. Theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski discovered that the most powerful performances – the ones that drew the biggest crowds, the loudest applause, that kept the audience at the edge of their seats with baited breath – were by actors who did something different than all the others (p. 88). Self-evaluation, such as answering What Will I Do Differently? (WWIDD), at the end of our leadership workshops, is the key to unlocking our own differentiation.

Another way we trip ourselves up: When we’re focused on proving ourselves, our actions can be destructive (p. 107). If you are the type who struggles to delegate – because “It’s just easier to do it myself,” there’s a good chance you are limiting self-growth. Davis learned over time a great performance is one in which the actorcan move beyond their concerns about what others think and have the courage to focus on powerfully igniting a moment in time and truly connecting with their fellow actors on the stage (pp. 108-109). Replace actor with leader and team members, respectively in the passage. It’s all about connection.

Davis challenges statements that merely list core values, guiding principles and beliefs. This is why a leadership philosophy should include eight elements, which together form a call to action. Recall a value in action is a virtue. Davis calls for a Super Objective, likewise with implicit, active leadership. She includes an Uncover Your Super Objective exercise on pages 126-130, similar to composing a personal leadership philosophy. The goal is a deep connection, since research shows that the ability to empathize has a direct correlation to higher job performance and increased customer satisfaction in the business world, and faster recovery for patients in healthcare (p. 147).

When we are actively living our leadership philosophy, we are Owning our own [YourPower, the title of a remarkable Chapter 18. Davis calls True Power our inherent ability, regardless of our title, where we’re from, who we know, or what we have, to access the want in others (p. 156). It’s not about us. To fully own our power, we must take our focus off ourselves (p. 176). How can we do this? Davis lists steps we can take to feel more connected to people at work (pp. 191-193):

• Take Initiative
• Be Curious
• Be Present
• Listen for Commonalities
• Remove the Mask
• Share Personal Stories
• Connect Like Your Life Depends on It

A Brave New World

We must learn to trust others. We may have to let go. Davis’ perspective: People are amazing creatures, with an enormous capacity for forgiveness when someone has the courage to own their mess (p. 238). Davis shares and describes seven ways to cultivate brave (pp. 246-255):

• Commit to Mastery
• Set Healthy Boundaries
• Surround Yourself with Brave
• Create Your Own Process
• Take Baby Steps
• Nurture and Grow Your Whole Self
• Make a Positive Impact


Let’s restate the key takeaway:

What is the impact you are here to have on your team,
on your organization, on your friends and family,
on your community, on this world? (p. 265)

Note: Kimberly Davis generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | June 2018