Review – Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead is one of the most popular books in recent management literature. Brown is a longtime writer, researcher, and consultant on leadership and corporate culture. Dare to Lead is meant as a distillation of her work, meant for a mass audience. The book focuses on the importance of courage in leadership, exploring the various ways it is essential to success.

Despite some issues, this 2018 book is thought-provoking and provides a few unique perspectives on everyday topics. It is a breezy read with a lot of personality. While the book is a bit difficult to pin down, it has some valuable points to consider. 

Praise of Dare to Lead

In Defence of Bravery

The central theme of the book is the importance of courage and bravery in life. Not just in business or leadership, but in all aspects of life. Courage is essential for living up to our values, innovating at work, and being a competent human being. People should see courage as a skill that needs to be developed, not an abstract quality woven into your DNA.

You rarely see anyone making a full-throated and nuanced endorsement of a virtue like courage. Most writers will nod to concepts like this but move on since they seem self-obvious, but that misses so much depth. Brown also takes seriously that courage can be extremely difficult, rather than suggesting “be brave.”

An impactful point for me was the argument that politeness is often an excuse not to be courageous. Honestly, I had never considered this, and it is absolutely something that happens all the time. So many people make excuses to avoid hard conversations. “Being kind means being clear” is an exceptional lesson, which I have already been putting into practice.

More Human Management

Dare to Lead is meant to be useful for people outside of work, but it is still a management book at its core. On this score, the book avoids over-discussed topics and focuses on more human aspects of management. Brown goes into detail about improving our conversations at work, building trust with others, and setting boundaries.

Interpersonal relationships in the workplace are complicated. They are constructed through a combination of corporate and cultural norms and the particular personalities of those involved. Taking time to deconstruct these forces and examine how they interact is fascinating. As someone whose interpersonal skills are hit-and-miss, I find books like this genuinely helpful.

Criticism of Dare to Lead

Empirically Lacklustre 

Popular books in the business/leadership/motivational space tend not to be a bit fuzzy regarding causality and hard facts. You rarely, if ever, get concrete statements like “this led to a 25% increase in employee retention over a 5-year time frame.” While reading this genre, I shush the part of my brain that yells, “What about the control group? How was this effect measured? Where is the data?”

Dare to Lead was guilty of this sin. At the outset, Brown does spell out that the book is essentially an accessible synopsis of her life’s work, so she does not promise a look at hard data. This is the first book by Brown that I have read, so I can’t tell if this lack of empirical rigor is an ongoing feature of her work or a one-time miss. Whatever the case, Dare to Lead would be more convincing if it relied more on data than anecdote.

Of course, there is a broader conversation about how empirically rigorous management books can be. You can’t double-blind test companies, and the legal and PR departments will usually hold unbecoming data back. On the other hand, some authors take this as a license to maneuver a couple of clever stories to say whatever you want. Brown is no worse than other writers in this respect, but I imagine a data-driven reader will not find this book satisfying.

Jargon

I swear I never want to hear the term “rumble” again in my life. Brown introduces the term early in the book, which means something like a “frank discussion.” It is so overused that it completely lost meaning, and I could not clearly explain the difference between a “rumble” and “discussion” or “meeting” or “debate.” Aside from being irritating, it sometimes makes it difficult to follow the author’s discussion.

Rumble is a particularly annoying example, but other words lose some meaning as the book progresses. Vulnerability and shame are also stretched a bit thin. Given that these are central topics of the book, it is perhaps unsurprising that they become worn, but they begin to lose relevance by distilling them to a slogan.

Takeaway

While I think the book has problems, many can be overlooked. The book has been written to be accessible, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone. This book is best suited to a manager struggling with a cold corporate culture, where everyone is scared of making mistakes and unable to have hard conversations. It should also be mentioned that this work might be helpful to marginalized groups who are not encouraged to speak their mind.

Overall, this book is thought-provoking and maybe inspiring to some readers. But this book is certainly not a “must read” for those turned off by the overly optimistic worldview or the lack of rigor.

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