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

Beginnings of an Idea

In July 2020, I had recently started reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and happened upon this PixL Leadership Book Club podcast episode where Rachel Johnson, Nav Sanghara and Aziza Ajak discussed their reactions to Dare to Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book. I was so inspired by the episode and the examples shared that it prompted a further conversation with my own head teacher about armoured leadership among other things! I decided that I’d finish Daring Greatly then read Dare to Lead.

A few months later, Steven Hope tweeted that he had purchased Start With Why by Simon Sinek and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown for his team at Leeds City College. Having just finished an online book club reading Sinek’s Start With Why with my colleagues, I suggested we read Dare to Lead next (although I still hadn’t finished Daring Greatly). As a lesson for others in why we should always think before we tweet, somehow this led to running a joint book club across our teams!

Collaborative Online Book Club

Thankfully, there are a wealth of resources for running a book club available on the Dare to Lead Hub. We had our first meeting over Google Meet in the middle of December then met fortnightly from January for an hour each time. Recognising that everyone is busy (eg. navigating remote learning, working from home, partial then full return to school buildings, etc!) participants were only expected to read the set pages and attend the fortnightly meetings to share their thoughts in whole group activities and smaller breakout room discussions. Using trust-building strategies from the book, such as Permission Slips and Container Building, helped to foster an (online!) environment where we felt able to share honestly, reflect, ask questions, and develop. If we hadn’t managed to get through the reading material or had to miss a meeting, it was okay! Due to the structure of the book, discussion topics, and non-judgmental support from the group, you could still take part. An open invitation was sent to team members across both settings which meant the participants varied in positions, some leaders of people and others leaders of learning within their classrooms. Despite having never met in person, I looked forward to these sessions which offered a safe space in which to reflect on the reading and how we live our values in our professional lives.

As the participants shared their experiences and thoughts with the vulnerability that Brené Brown advocates on the trust and understanding that “what’s said in book club, stays in book club”, the rest of this blog post focuses on my own reflections of reading the book.

Part One – Rumbling with Vulnerability

“To feel is to be vulnerable. Believing that vulnerability is weakness is believing that feeling is weakness.”

Brené Brown

Part One is slightly different from the rest of the book as it is separated into five sections:

  1. The Moment and the Myths
  2. The Call to Courage
  3. The Armoury
  4. Shame and Empathy
  5. Curiosity and Grounded Confidence

Reflecting now, I think the section on Shame and Empathy has stayed with me the most. Prior to reading, I wouldn’t have identified “shame” as something I spoke about or felt often, choosing more to describe it as “embarrassment” instead. Brown writes about this, saying “we’re all afraid to talk about shame. Just the word is uncomfortable.” During this book club meeting, we really had to lean in to what shame is and how it shows up in our lives. We considered and discussed the following prompts:

  • When I hear the word shame, I think of…
  • If shame were a colour, it would be…
  • If I could taste shame, it would taste like…
  • If I could smell shame, it would smell like…
  • I physically feel shame in / on my…
  • My shame symptoms include…
  • I know I’m in shame when I feel…
  • When I’m in shame, I feel…
  • When I talk about shame, I feel…
  • I can talk about shame with…

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t something I’d ever done before and it led to a really interesting conversation around what shame is and how it shows up in our schools and colleges. 

Taken from the Read Along Workbook available on the Dare to Lead Hub

We discussed each of the ways that shame shows up, as shown in the above photograph taken from the Dare to Lead Read Along Workbook. It was interesting to discuss how shame shows up among the adults, then reflect on what this looks like for our learners. Something that really stood out for me, and I continue to reflect on, is the need to link self-worth with productivity. I’ve written in previous blogs about my attempts to find a better balance and reading this caused me to pause and lean into why I find myself working a lot.

I also really loved the discussion around empathy, what it looks like, how we practise it, and if it’s different now we are interacting more online. 

Image by Urban Wild Studio

There’s something really powerful about working in a team led by leaders who practise Daring Leadership rather than Armoured Leadership. This is the main thing that stood out from the podcast episode I mentioned at the start of this post. Leaders modeling that it’s okay to be human and that being vulnerable is encouraged creates a culture where team members feel safe enough to be themselves, admit when they have made mistakes, and ask for help when they need it.

Part Two – Living Into Our Values

“Know my values = know me. No values = no me.”

Brené Brown

We talk about school values a lot with our learners, but I’ve never specifically reflected or written down what I feel my own values are. As part of a book club meeting, each of us spent ten minutes reviewing the list of values provided in the book and decided on two that represent who we are. We then identified behaviours that supported our values and slippery behaviours that are outside our values. I found this a really challenging exercise. There were hundreds to choose from and lots resonated. Eventually, I thought about past experiences when I didn’t feel I was being true to myself and reflected on why. Based on this, I’ve identified the following as my core values:

COMPASSION IMPROVEMENT

I could write a whole separate blog post about each of the above but, for now, I’ll just leave them there. I wasn’t sure whether to even share them here but decided to be #TenPercentBraver and practise the vulnerability I’ve been reading about!

Another part of the book that has really resonated with me is the “assumption of positive intent” where we “presume people are doing the best they can.” I found this section uncomfortable to read as this is something I often struggle with. I can be a bit of a perfectionist about certain things but I’m working on it!

Part Three – Braving Trust

“What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous with my assumptions about the intentions, words, and actions of others?”

Brené Brown

I read this section after writing a previous blog post about boundaries and was then annoyed about the timing! In it, Brown shared the BRAVING inventory, a conversation guide and reflection tool based on seven elements or behaviours:

  • Boundaries
  • Reliability
  • Accountability
  • Vault
  • Integrity
  • Non-judgement
  • Generosity

I’m currently listening to Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game audiobook and there’s a chapter in that called Trusting Teams. So much of that chapter resonates with this part of Dare to Lead. Lots to reflect on, not just as leaders, but also as members of teams. How do we show up? How do we practise our values? Lots of personal and professional reflection prompted by this part of the book.

Part Four – Learning to Rise

“Creativity: Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. And just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change it’s worth or ours.”

Brené Brown

Reading this section reminded me of what Mary Myatt said at NewEdLeaders that I wrote about in my last blog post, “Humans first, learners second. Humans first, professionals second.” Discussing Brown’s six “offloading strategies” we may use when we are being driven by our emotions led to an interesting conversation about context, so many of our decisions depend on the context and situation we are in. That being said, I gained so much from reading this book with passionate education practitioners within my own setting as well as those in a completely different one. At first thought, you may not think that a primary school in Aberdeen, Scotland, and a Further Education college in Leeds, England, would have much common ground to discuss but that turned out to be very wrong! Ultimately we are all working towards improving outcomes for our learners. By doing this work internally, the hope is that this then ripples out into our wider teams and the learners in our care feel the benefits. I’d thoroughly recommend book clubs with settings different to your own, and am looking forward to the next one. For now, I think I might actually focus on finishing Daring Greatly!

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