Daring Greatly | Book Review

"Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting." (p. 216)

What does an authentic leader look like? Dr. Brené Brown not only answers that question in her autobiographical portrait, she candidly models her personal, inspirational path. Brown admits all of my [her life] stages were different suits of armor that kept me [her] from becoming too engaged and too vulnerable. Each strategy was built on the same premise: Keep everyone at a safe distance and always have an exit strategy (p. 7).

We can recall from our Feedback (communication) workshop that leaders ultimately make connections; likewise, Brown realizes connection is why we're here (p. 8), and that we often fear not being worthy of connection.

Brown has a terrific term for authenticity, wholeheartedness, or a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. In The Gifts of Imperfection,  Brown (pp. 9-10) defined ten "guideposts:"

• Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
• Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfection
• Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
• Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
• Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
• Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
• Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
• Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
• Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and "Supposed To"
• Cultivating Laughter, Song & Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and "Always in Control"

We can think of these guideposts as preparation for creating a Personal Leadership Philosophy. Over the years, Brown has found that ... everyone from C-Level executives to the front-line folks talk to me about disengagement, the lack of feedback, the fear of staying relevant amid rapid change, and the need for clarity of purpose (p. 15).

This review summarizes how eliminating common myths and embracing real communication & feedback allows us to dare greatly, or become a unique, authentic leader.

Myths | Scarcity & Vulnerability

In her book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist refers to scarcity as "the great lie." Brown likewise describes how scarcity also creates a passive mindset (think of Marshall Goldsmith's revelations in Triggers) disabling progress in ourselves and others. This passivity leads to disengagement and is reinforced

by (p. 26) often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection.

Brown also challenges four vulnerability myths:

Myth 1 | Vulnerability is Weakness

Is stepping up to the plate after striking out a sign of weakness? NO. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage (p. 37). Think of an After Action Review, where groups bravely seek the truth, driven by passionate, continuous team improvement, and then make commitments (at the individual level) expecting to be held accountable. That's courage.

Myth 2 | I Don't Do Vulnerability

"I'm an engineer -- we hate vulnerability." "I'm a lawyer -- we eat vulnerability for breakfast." "Guys don't do vulnerability." (p. 43). This reminds us of the Conflict Leadership workshop where a win/lose mindset leaves our compromise (win-win) and collaboration (gain-gain) outcomes off the table.

Myth 3 | Vulnerability Is Letting It All Hang Out

Brown envisions trust is built one marble at a time (p. 49). This reminds me of the wonderful term "relational capacity" as taught by Flip Flippen, or the Karma Wheel mindset of pioneering company Switch. It doesn't happen overnight or as simply the result of a poster or sign. Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement (p. 53). Think of our Energize2Lead (E2L) profiles, especially the lower (instinctive) colors. By connecting at an instinctive level, trust is possible, allowing unprecedented levels of performance when our mutual needs are both understood and nourished.

Myth 4 | We Can Go It Alone

When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help (p. 54). This may be why evaluation is frequently confused with coaching. Think about it this way: When we become so hung up on possibly being judged (evaluated), the fear can overcome our desire for actual improvement. That's debilitating. Brown realizes ...the people I really depend on, were never the critics who were pointing at me while I stumbled (p. 56).

Authentic Communication & Feedback

Recall sharing our personal dreams and goals from the Goal Setting workshop- and how we really learned deeply about each other. This goes against the grain of the image of the perfect leader. Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs doesn't buy it: "This notion that the leader needs to be "in charge" and to "know all the answers" is both dated and destructive (p. 65).

Shame frequently holds us back. Dr. Brown's definition:

"Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love or belonging." (p. 69)

Brown found that men and women with high levels of shame resilience (moving from shame to empathy) have four things in common pp. 74-75),

1. Recognizing Shame and Uncertainty in Others
2. Practicing Critical Awareness
3. Reaching Out
4. Speaking Shame

Brown notices it appears that believing that we're "enough" is the way out -- giving us permission to take off the mask (p. 116):

• I am enough
• I've had enough
• Showing up, taking risks, and letting myself be seen is enough

Ask yourself whether your leadership philosophy invites or welcomes this level of communication and openness.

Culture & Values

Dr. Brown shares that she can tell a lot about the culture and values of a group, family, or organization by asking these ten questions:

• What behaviors are acceptable?
• Where and how are people actually spending their resources?
• What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
• Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
• What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
• What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
• What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
• How is vulnerability perceived?
• How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
• What's the collective tolerance for discomfort?

It's a great list. Chances are leaders or organizations we admire practice use of questions like that during meetings, or more specifically, in coaching sessions.

Application | Dare Greatly

Brown defines a leader as anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes (p. 185). Sure sounds a bit like the choinque leadership definition. Going further, she states no corporation or school can thrive in the absence of creativity, innovation, and learning, and the greatest threat to all three of these is disengagement (p. 187). In a way this is what Pfeffer and Sutton found out in The Knowing-Doing Gap, that  knowledge sharing is key.

Brown cites Sir Ken Robinson in Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (p. 188)

"An organization is not the physical facilities within which it operates; it is the networks of people in it."

This is exactly what Stanley McChrystal learned and incorporated into theconstruction of his new operational headquarters in Team of Teams. Or put another way: A daring greatly culture is a culture of honest, constructive, and engaged feedback (p. 197), where vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process (p. 201)

The unwillingness to engage with the vulnerability of not knowing often leads to making excuses, dodging the question, or -- worst-case scenario--bullshitting (p. 207). We've all been in meetings like this where an insecure leader "filibusters" rather than risk being asked a tough question or entering a crucial conversation.

Takeaway | Lifetime Leadership

Dr. Brown brings her findings home: How we help our children understand, leverage, and appreciate their hardwiring, and how we teach them resilience in the face of relentless "never enough" cultural messages (p. 217), is a great reminder that leadership doesn't stop at the office. It's a lifetime responsibility.

Engagement means investing time and energy. It means sitting down with our children and understanding their worlds, their interests, and their stories (p. 237).

JE | July 2017