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On this episode of Dare to Lead

The greatest barrier to daring leadership is not fear; the greatest barrier is armor, or how we self-protect when we’re in fear. This is Part 1 of a two-part series where I unpack the most common types of armor, including being a knower versus being a learner, tapping out of hard conversation versus skilling up and leaning in, and using shame and blame to manage others versus using accountability and empathy. Join me for a conversation that includes real examples and actionable strategies about how we can dare to lead.

About the guest

Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She also holds the position of visiting professor in management at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

Brené has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is the author of six #1 New York Times bestsellers and is the host of two award-winning podcasts, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.

Brené’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and her titles include Atlas of the HeartDare to Lead, Braving the Wilderness, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. With Tarana Burke, she co-edited the bestselling anthology You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience.

Brené’s TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with over 60 million views. Brené is the first researcher to have a filmed lecture on Netflix, and in March 2022, she launched a new show on HBO Max that focuses on her latest book, Atlas of the Heart.

Brené spends most of her time working in organizations around the world, helping develop braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Steve. They have two children, Ellen and Charlie, and a weird Bichon named Lucy.

Show notes

Unlocking Us podcast episode Brené on Shame and Accountability


Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare To Lead. So Part 1 of a two-part special. Just me, and I want us to talk about armor. I want us to talk about the ways in which we self-protect when we feel backed into a corner, when we feel afraid, when we feel anxious, nervous, out of depth, what do we do to self-protect. And the reason why this is so important is really the big finding of the leadership research, which is it’s not fear that gets in the way of daring leadership, it’s armor. The greatest barrier to being brave is the armor we throw up when we are feeling less than.

BB: So one of the things that’s really interesting is we have taken around 40,000 people through Dare To Lead since the book came out in 2018, so we have an entire team of certified Dare To Lead facilitators all over the world working… I think we’ve done work on every continent. These are folks who are leadership and organizational development specialists, that’s their training, that’s their education, and then they’re trained and certified in our work. So collectively, again, tens of thousands of folks have gone through the work, and I’m starting to really learn and understand a lot from the evaluation data we’re getting back.

BB: So here’s what we’re going to do, I’m going to read a little bit to you from Dare To Lead, and then I’m going to share some new information some new research we have on these elements of daring leadership. What does the armored leadership version look like and what does the daring leadership version look like, and why is it true that people want to use the kind of armored versus daring leadership as a checklist, but it’s not. It’s a continuum, and sometimes we slide, we slide based on the day, we slide based on the situation, we slide based on what the trigger is.

BB: So let me start. I’m going to read a little bit to you from the beginning of Section 3 in Dare To Lead, and then we’re going to jump into daring versus armor leadership, and I’m going to walk you through some very specific types of armor.

BB: I start this section with a really, I think a beautiful quote from Minouche Shafik, who was at the time the Director of the London School of Economics, and Minouche wrote: In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.

BB: So I have a 13-year-old son, who is actually now 15, but I write: I have a 13-year-old son, which means I’ve seen every spy thriller and Marvel movie ever made, Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy, at least three times. We can add to that now, like End Game 2700 times. When I think about how and why we self-protect against vulnerability, I picture these movie scenes where even after penetrating the heavily fortified perimeter, you find that there are 10 more obstacles to navigate to get to the treasure, you’ve got the infrared security beams, floors that drop underneath you, hidden traps, the fake contact lenses to get you past the retina scan.

BB: I mean, you don’t need to be a Marvel watcher to know these. I always think of Raiders of the Lost Ark to try to get to this totem, this artifact. There’s all these things you have to get past. And it’s so funny, because in all of these movies, after all the herculean power moves, the camera zooms in and shows us this little small assuming thing, like a stone, an end game, that holds within it all the power in the world, some kind of elixir, or it grants immortality.

BB: So at the center of all of our personal security measures and protection schemes, all the ways that we set up our own traps, therein lies the most precious treasure of the human experience, our heart. So in addition to serving as the life-giving muscle that keeps our blood pumping through our body, it’s the universal metaphor for our capacity to love and be loved, and it is also the gateway, at least symbolically, to our emotional lives.

BB: And what I think is interesting is I’ve always talked about living with an unarmored heart, I’ve always described that as wholeheartedness. In The Gifts of Imperfection, I defined wholeheartedness as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness, cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “You know what, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I’m enough.” It’s going to bed at night and thinking, “Yeah, I’m imperfect. This was a shit show. I’m vulnerable, I was afraid a lot today, but that doesn’t change the truth that I’m brave, and I’m also worthy of love and belonging.”

BB: I think wholeheartedness captures the essence of a fully-examined emotional life and a liberated heart, one that’s free and vulnerable enough to love and be loved, and a heart that’s also, for better or worse, open and vulnerable enough to be broken and hurt. And therein lies the rub of vulnerability, right?

BB: So I think, rather than protecting and hiding our heart behind bullet-proof glass, wholeheartedness is about integration, it’s integrating our thinking, our feeling, and our behavior, it’s putting down the armor and bringing forth all of the scraggly, misshapen pieces of our lives, our history, all the different roles we play, that we like to keep compartmentalized and separated, which literally takes more energy than we can even imagine and absolutely doesn’t work most of the time. It leaves us feeling exhausted, we’re torn, because the truth is that we’re complex, messy, awesome, whole people. I love the fact that the Latin root of the word integrate is integrare, to make whole.

BB: When we think about work, we pay a lot of lip service to this idea of bringing our whole selves to work. But I have to say, the number of organizations that I’ve really have been in and gotten to know, the ones that really allow people to bring their whole selves to work are pretty few and far between. I don’t see a lot of meaningful actionable support for integration and wholeheartedness. The slogan is easy, bring your whole self to work; the support and the systems that you have to put in place in order to allow people to do that, and the stuff that you have to interrogate in your culture from racism and sexism, and all kinds of systems in place that privilege some people over others, to attaching people’s self-worth to what they produce, you have to really have an introspective culture and leaders that model what they want to see.

BB: For sure, there are companies that embrace wholeheartedness, but what I often see is that many organizational cultures and leaders still subscribe to the myth that if we serve the heart, if we allow the heart to be open, it’s messy and hard, and if we sever the heart, meaning we cut off vulnerability and other emotions from our work, we’re more productive, efficient, and don’t forget the big one, easier to manage, or at the very least we’re less messy and less human. And I think it’s this belief that rather than serving the heart, we sever the heart that leads us to consciously or unconsciously building cultures that require and reward armor.

BB: In teams and organizations where heart and emotion are seen as liabilities, where vulnerability is a liability, the culture, or in some case, individual leaders, strike a bargain with our egos. We lock everything away and we start to reward perfectionism, emotional stoicism, false compartmentalizing, we want to try to keep things easy and comfortable instead of embracing the necessary tough and awkward conversations. We start to value knowing over learning and being curious.

BB: Here’s the deal, y’all. When we imprison the heart, we kill courage. Let me say that again. When we imprison the heart, or we sever the heart, we kill courage. In the same way that we depend on our physical heart to pump life-giving blood to every part of our body, we depend on our emotional heart to keep vulnerability coursing through the veins of courage and to engage in all the behaviors we talk about being necessary for good work: Trust, innovation, creativity, accountability.

BB: So severed heart, severed courage. Imprisoned heart, suffocated courage. There just is no courage without vulnerability and without emotion. And so we become disbodied from our emotions to the point where we really don’t even recognize them, we don’t understand the physical feeling in our body when we’re in emotion. If you listen to the podcast with Susan David, which was I just think such a remarkable conversation, I loved it so much, when we don’t attend to emotions, they metastasize and they grow. And so when we’re disembodied from our emotions and we can’t recognize them, we don’t feel them, they grow and grow and grow and take over.

BB: On the other hand, when the heart is open and free and we’re connected to our emotions and understand what they’re telling us, completely new worlds open up for us, including better decision-making, better critical thinking, empathy, self-compassion, resilience, team-building, trust, psychological safety.

BB: Our ego is an eager and willing conspirator when it comes to locking away the heart. I always think of my ego as the inner hustler. It’s that voice in my head that drives let’s pretend, perform, perfect, please, prove. The ego loves the gold stars, craves acceptance and approval, it’s got no interest in wholeheartedness, just self-protection and admiration. And our ego will do almost anything to avoid or minimize the discomfort associated with feeling vulnerable or even being curious, because curiosity, which we know the future is all about curiosity. Curiosity is risky.

BB: If I ask questions, if I don’t understand, if I need to learn more, what will people think. What if I lean into learning something about myself or what’s going on here and it’s unpleasant or uncomfortable, and now because I understand it, I have to do something about it. But the ego, while powerful and demanding, is also just a tiny part of who we are. The heart is giant by comparison, and it’s free and its wisdom can drown out the smallness of needing to be liked and needing to seek approval.

BB: I love… Jungian analyst Jim Hollis describes the ego as “that thin wafer of consciousness floating on an iridescent ocean called the soul.” I mean, it’s such a great quote, he says: We’re not here to fit in, be well-balanced or provide exemplar for others, we’re here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, and perhaps merely to add our small piece, a little clunky, chunky selves to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.

BB: So protecting our ego and fitting in is why we reach for armor in situations where we think being liked or respected is at risk because we might be wrong or not have all the answers, we may be in over our heads, we may not look smart enough. And we also go on lockdown when our emotions can be perceived by others in a way that we can’t manage our control, which is kind of a fool’s errand to try to manage perception, right? But I think we struggle with, if I’m honest about how I’m feeling, will I be misunderstood, judged, seen as weak, will my vulnerability change the way you think of me.

BB: Let’s go through some of the most common forms of armored leadership and daring leadership and the indicator behaviors that ladder up to the armor and self-protection, and the daring adventure of taking the armor off and replacing it with grounded confidence. I’m not saying take the armor off and be naked, I’m saying take the armor off and replace it with grounded confidence. Grounded confidence is about the willingness to be in vulnerability, to be curious and to practice new ways of being that are awkward sometimes, but we all know what grounded confidence looks like and feels like in ourselves and other people, and that’s what we want.

BB: So let’s look at a few of the big common ones. So in this episode, I want to take on three or four of the most common types of armor I see in organizations, in teams, in myself, everywhere you look, if you’re looking for it, you’ll see it. I want to talk about being a knower and being right versus being a learner and getting it right. I want to talk about tapping out of hard conversations versus leaning into vulnerability, and skilling up for hard conversations, and I want to talk about using shame and blame to manage others and to manage ourselves versus leading ourselves and others from a place of empathy, accountability, and learning. We’ll do this in this episode, and then in Part 2, we’ll dig into some other real specifics around armored versus daring leadership.

BB: So let’s start with armored leadership, being a knower and being right, versus daring leadership, being a learner and getting it right. In a culture and within ourselves where there is armor around being a knower and being right, not knowing is perceived as weakness. Let me give you some very tactical examples here. This is where when you have a new employee, and this is so helpful, especially with young folks who are new to a work environment, where someone says in a meeting like, “I really don’t understand, can you walk me through how this process is going to work again?” And you’re watching to make sure that that’s received well, that people are willing to explain, because if you are the leader in there and that’s not the case, then you’ve set up something that’s armored and not daring.

BB: But afterwards you want to pull that person aside and say, “Look, I just want to make sure that you hear from me that stopping a meeting and saying, I don’t understand, can you explain that process to me again, is daring leadership.” That is what I want to see from people at every level, that’s what I want to see from myself, so I just want to say thank you for being brave in that meeting.

BB: Conversely, sometimes we have to say to folks when we’re coaching them, what I’d like for you to do, especially if we’ve got people who place a lot of emphasis on knowing and are doing more knowing than they are learning and they’re not right, we’re going to go into a meeting with ops today, and we’re going to go over this complex process for setting up, I don’t know, something new, and I want to challenge you to ask questions in this meeting. I want you to give pause when you think you have the answer, and I want you to let someone else answer, and I want you to ask smart questions. Well, why, if I know the answer? Because I want us to work on some new skill-building, I want us to tap into a muscle that I think needs some developing, which is asking strategic questions, especially because a lot of folks, myself included, who have some knower tendencies, want to move up, we want to lead.

BB: And what we don’t understand is the best, most transformational leaders do not have answers, they have just stunning, I mean, breath-taking questions. That’s where their strategic thinking capacity is revealed, that’s where their ability to work and understand and break apart conceptually complex ideas shines, and so we can give coaching and feedback like that.

BB: Another indicator, and this is a hard one, and I’ve lived through this, of armored leadership, is when being a knower and being right, is you being used as armor. We can buy into the belief that knowing is the only value we bring. And so if I’m not in there knowing, what’s my value? The daring leadership response to that is we operate from the belief that leaders don’t have all the answers, but ask the right questions. So again, there is the supporting “I don’t understand,” but there’s also the supporting of pulling someone aside and saying, “When you asked the group if we thought we’d see improvement if we made these three changes, and to what degree, that was one of the best questions I’ve heard asked in a long time in a meeting like this.”

BB: The other day, actually, this is a true story, I was in a meeting, and we were like freaking 90 minutes into this thing, it was the hard as hell, it was just a big rumble, and you would think because this is part of my work that we would remember to do this, but alas, we are humans and to research leadership is easier than to practice it. Someone finally said, “You know what, I know we’re into this like an hour-and-a-half, and I know that the tension is kind of high in here, but I’m actually not clear on what problem we’re trying to solve.” Great question. And then I said, “Look, before we answer it,” to kind of hold for the halo effect or the bandwagon effect, meaning if I go first, I’ve got the most influence in the room because it’s my company or everyone jumps on the bandwagon, “Let’s get a sticky note and I want everyone to write down what problem we think we’re solving right now.”

BB: And when we flipped those suckers over, there were I think six of us in the room, five of us had different ideas about what problem we were trying to solve. So again, framing curiosity, framing strategic questions. Suzanne’s our Chief Operating Officer, and I just love her in meetings because she asks all the right questions all the time, and that’s her superpower. But again, when you’ve got the armored leadership of be a knower, be a knower, be right, be a knower, we think that’s where the value is, and I’ve seldom seen the value in only answers.

BB: One last indicator, I think, around the armored approach of being a knower is asking for help is perceived as weakness. God bless, that is so dangerous. In daring leadership, asking for help is normalized and expected at all levels. So one of the things I want to share with you is very early on in the Dare To Lead research, before the book came out, I was doing some work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and we started kind of at that point an informal survey, which then became more formal survey research, what are the behaviors your direct reports engage in that make you trust them more?

BB: So what are the things specifically behaviorally that your direct reports are doing that make you trust them more? So I thought for sure the number one answer would be reliability, kind of they do what they say, they say what they do. Do you know the what number one answer was, not only in that informal first survey of Gates Foundation employees, but went on with… I think we reached over 2000 leaders with this. Overall, the number one behavior that people engage in that make leaders trust them more is asking for help. And it seems so counter-intuitive, but think about it: As a leader, I am never going to hand off something important to me, I’m never going to delegate it, hand it off to someone who doesn’t ask for help when they get in over their heads or doesn’t ask for help when they’re unclear, or doesn’t ask for help when they think they could probably get it done, but there could be a better way to get it done. I’m just not going to do it. I don’t trust people who don’t ask for help.

BB: Because the deliverables are shittier in quality, and my perception of that actually is if I give you something to do that’s really important to me and you don’t ask for help, you don’t value it as much as I value it, and that’s problematic. So first kind of form of armor is being a knower and being right versus daring leadership, being a learner and getting it right.

BB: The second one let’s look at is armored leadership, tapping out of hard conversations, conversations that are awkward and uncomfortable. Daring leadership, we lean into vulnerability and we skill up for hard conversations. What does that mean, skilling up for hard conversations? There’s nothing that pisses me off quicker than when I’m in an organization, and really one of the biggest complaints that I hear, which is actually the biggest complaint that I hear in every organization I go into, is we’re not having hard conversations, we’re not giving direct feedback. We are tapping out.

BB: And then I always ask this question: “How have you skilled people up to do that?” “Well, what do you mean?” “Like how have you taught them to have hard conversations?” “Well, we don’t, we just have the hard conversation.” No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. That’s like… This is analogy I always use, that’s like a flight attendant coming to me and saying, “Hey, Dr. Brown, we see that you have a million frequent flyer miles on United, we would love for you to land the plane when we get back to Houston.” Uh, no, I’m not going to do that. And before I completely lose my shit, tell me there’s someone else that can land it, because I can’t do that. Because I have flown a lot, yes, but that doesn’t mean I have the skill to land the plane.

BB: Yeah, I’m at work. Life is hard, I’ve known struggle at work personally, that doesn’t mean I’m skilled up to have hard conversations about it. And with new employees, and not new employees, but I guess younger employees, millennials, Gen Z employees, there’s been a pretty significant parenting fail around us teaching our kids how to have hard conversations. That’s why I just don’t buy into the whole millennials, they’re not this and they don’t do that, and oh my God, what’s happening with Gen Z? I love millennials, I love Gen Z. Oh, man, I think that they are smart, powerful, curious, brave, and I think they got the short end of the stick in a lot of systems, and we need to skill folks up, not just of that generation, or those generations, but of every generation.

BB: So when we look at indicators of tapping out, avoiding conflict in uncomfortable conversations, including performance feedback, conversations about race, gender, class, or other complex subjects, other diminishing systems, we just avoid them. When we see daring leadership in a culture, discomfort and vulnerability are normalized and seen as central to good work, so we’re skilled up in having tough conversations, we’re like, hey, discomfort is what you’re going to experience most days here, so we’re going to skill you up for it.

BB: Like we onboard for discomfort and failure. We’re like, welcome to Brené Brown Education and Research Group, we’re glad you’re here, here’s your ID, here’s your laptop, here are all the books, and we’re going to expect you to fail, because if all you’re going to do is stuff you’re already good at doing, we’re not really interested in that. So you’re going to have to learn new things, try new things, mess up, screw up, drop the ball, and so here’s how we’ll expect you to get back up when that happens. Here are the systems in place, and we have a lot of hard conversations every single day, we’re going to skill you up for those. Don’t ask people to have hard conversations if you’re not investing in their skilling up of those.

BB: Another indicator of armored leadership around tapping out of hard conversations, we talk about people rather than directly to them concerning hard topics or feedback. Armored leadership, we talk to people and not about people, we give and receive feedback in ways that align with our values and the organization’s values. And so one of the most helpful things, I was thinking about doing this as a podcast episode, is maybe me and my sisters or something, or me and a couple of my co-workers going through the values exercise with y’all and showing you how incredibly important, irreducible prerequisite it is for receiving and giving feedback. If you’re not clear on your values, it’s very hard to stay in them when you’re hearing hard feedback, especially from someone not skilled up, which happens all the time from the time we’re born.

BB: Sorry, Mom and Dad, but from the time we’re born, we get feedback from people who are not really good at it. Not everybody, some people are skilled, but a whole bunch of people are not. Another indicator light for armored leadership around tapping out of hard conversations, kind and honest are often thought of as mutually exclusive, versus daring leadership, where we believe in a model that clear, honest conversations are kind and valued. “Have you shared the feedback with Joaquin about that meeting?” “No, I don’t know what to do. He’s such a nice guy and I don’t want to be an asshole and…” Woah, woah, woah, woah, where did we learn that sharing difficult feedback makes you an asshole? Actually, not sharing that feedback and then watching Joaquin repeat those behaviors in meetings until he loses his job or the respect of his colleagues, that seems really unkind.

BB: And this is the world, this is life, right? This is just not work where we think setting boundaries and having hard conversations, we have to listen to the jock jams and get pumped up and then go in and just drive, drive, drive, crush people. No, crushing people during hard conversations is just evidence of a lack of skill. I would hope that even when we fire people here, we do it with kindness and empathy. Does that mean they’re not disappointed, angry, shocked, whatever it is? No, and we’re not looking for that, we’re not looking for, “Hey, you just had this really difficult thing happen to you, can you validate that we were really sweet while we were doing it?” That’s kind of bullshit too. But kindness and empathy, and hard conversation and hard feedback, that intersection of those things is where the gold is. There’s no mutual exclusivity.

BB: The other thing, and this is a really hard one, the last indicator for tapping out of hard conversations versus leaning into vulnerability and skilling up for hard conversations is in cultures where there’s armored leadership and people tap out of hard conversations. Performance and behavioral issues are tolerated and ignored, rather than addressed through difficult feedback. Versus in daring leadership, we have a strong feedback culture built on respect. Everyone gives feedback, everyone receives it, everyone values it. And that is about normalizing discomfort.

BB: I’ve gone into some cultures that have taken this so far that it has actually become as bad as not giving any feedback. These kind of brutal honesty cultures. Well, if it’s brutal, it’s not courageous. So in these cultures where I just say what’s on my mind like, “Hey, you look awful in that,” “Hey, this report sucked, it was like done by a third grader,” like, no. Just no. But what we do do is normalize discomfort, and I used to have a sign in my office when I had an office at the university that said: If you’re comfortable, I’m not teaching. If I’m comfortable, you’re not learning. And God bless America, we had some uncomfortable classrooms, because I taught classes on race and class and gender and women’s issues, and social welfare policy analysis and research methods, and they were hard. And everybody was learning, but no one more than me, trust me.

BB: In these daring leadership cultures, what we want to do is normalize feedback so that it’s not unexpected. And what I’ve noticed in our culture is when people don’t get it, they ask for it, they say, hey, I sent the draft of the newsletter, I noticed that what went out was different, I would love to see your tracked changes so I can learn from that. You know what, I made this recommendation, I see that that’s not what the final recommendation was once it went up to the next team, can someone walk me through how that shifted and why it shifted so I can learn from that?

BB: We also really believe in giving feedback as closely to the time of an event as possible, and so it’s not unusual to walk out of a meeting and have someone say to me, “Hey, it’s okay to be pissed off and frustrated, you need to watch rolling your eyes when other people are speaking.” And then I’ll say, “Oh, God, shit, did I do that? They’re like, yeah, a couple of times.” “I really appreciate the feedback. I will circle back with the group,” and then a circle back is just, “Hey, I want to circle back with y’all, I got some feedback that I was rolling my eyes, and I apologize, that feels diminishing, and I think it can stop people from sharing, especially when it’s coming from me, because I know I can be intense, so I apologize and am committed to changing that behavior.” Full stop.

BB: Alright, so the last one we’re going to talk about is armored leadership, using shame and blame to manage ourselves and others, and daring leadership, leading ourselves and others from a place of empathy, accountability, and learning. I’ve done whole podcast episodes on this, so I would refer you back to those, and we’ll put a link into the episode page. The thing is that when… And you’ve probably heard me say this or you’ve read it, but when we look for shame in an organization, it’s like the termite inspection, right? If you can see shame in walking through an office, you’ve got a critically urgent problem, a crisis. If you see termites in your house, you know your infestation is already full in swing and you’re going to have to bring out some big guns, maybe tent that thing, it’s a disaster. But a lot of times, like termites, the problems are behind the walls for a long time before we see them.

BB: And so we have to stay very aware of how shame shows up at work and what happens when we have a blaming culture. So the first thing under armored leadership, shaming and blaming to manage ourselves and others, is it drives a culture where we try to look, work, and deliver perfectly so we can self-protect against the pain of blame and judgment and shame. In a daring leadership organization, rather than promoting perfectionism, which is kind of this outwardly focused, what will people think, we nurture healthy striving, which is internally focused. How do I want to learn? How do I want to grow? What are my goals? What do I think? And if you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, maybe a little perfectionism is really great, and maybe using shame and blame to drive a culture of do everything perfectly is great, because then we’ll have perfect stuff,” no, you’ll never have perfect stuff, which is just what it means to be human. But worse than that, you’ll never have excellent stuff, because healthy striving and excellence is driven internally, not by what other people think.

BB: Secondly, creativity, innovation and new ideas: Kiss them goodbye. No one’s going to be willing to risk that. Shame and innovation: Mutually exclusive. Another common indicator is blame and finger-pointing become norms when there are mistakes and failures. Compared to in a daring leadership culture, we don’t use a lot of shame and finger-pointing, but we do hold ourselves and each other accountable in a respectful way. And talking about needing to skill up, we do not have the skills culturally in this country around accountability, we just shame the shit out of everyone, we have cancel culture, we literally do not know how to hold ourselves and others accountable, which I will do a podcast on that.

BB: Third indicator light: When shame and blame is a leadership style, it’s hard to take risks, try new things. So cynicism and criticism are often more common than making a contribution. So it’s too scary to actually contribute and try something new, so we just become cynics and critics. Versus in daring leadership, we take thoughtful risks and make sincere efforts to achieve goals. We learn from mistakes because it’s encouraged and valued. So everyone that works for me, there’s probably 30 of us, they would tell you, Brené has a very high tolerance for risk. She has a high tolerance for failure and making mistakes, but only if you learn from the failures and mistakes, talk openly about them and embed them in the culture, so we don’t repeat them.

BB: Same mistake, number three. No, I’m not good with that. Mistake number one, we thought we learned, we embedded it in the culture, it happened again, we learned, we dug deeper, we talked more openly about it. Everyone talked about it. We rumbled on it. I’m proud of us. Last indicator light: People are reluctant to speak up because they fear being ridiculed or belittled. And in an armored leadership environment where we use shame and blame, people are afraid, fear is the currency. In daring leadership, empathy and self-compassion are taught, modeled, and expected.

BB: Not only do we treat each other with empathy and compassion, people watch us model it. They’ll see where in a meeting there’s been a big failure, everyone’s anxious and nervous; no matter how kind of open-hearted and daring leadership we are, people are still scared and people are worried. And they’ll see me, they’ll look to me to see the tone often, and sometimes I’ll say, “Let’s start with the intention and assumption of generosity, that we are not here to beat ourselves up, we’re not here to beat each other up, we’re here to learn, and we’re going to start from the place where we’re smart, we do great work, and we made a mistake, and that mistake is because we’re human, and the fact that we’re talking about it openly is because we’re brave. Let’s get started.” But when people watch us beat ourselves up, then A, they expect us to beat them up, and B, they think that’s the right thing to do, so that’s how they respond.

BB: Alright, Part 2, we’ll talk more about armored versus daring leadership. And kind of your challenge between this week and next week is to think about how and when you armor up. We all use armor to protect ourselves, but it’s heavy and it prevents us from growing, being seen, being in connection with each other. When we’re in fear or an emotion is driving self-protection, there’s often a very predictable pattern of how we assemble our armor, piece by piece. A lot of it is like, oh, God, I’m not enough. Step two, oh, my God, if I’m honest with them about what’s happening, they’ll think less of me, or maybe they’ll even use it against me. Step three, no way am I going to be honest about what’s going on right now. No one else is honest. Why do I have to put myself out there?

BB: Step four, yeah, who cares about these people anyway? I don’t see them being honest about what scares them, and they’ve got tons of issues. Step five, you know what, now that I think about it, it’s probably their issues and shortcomings that make me act this way, this is their fault, they’re trying to blame me. The last one, in fact, now that I think about it, I’m pretty much better than everybody else.

BB: That’s why I often say when we are in that deep feeling of I’m not enough, we think it’s a million miles away to I’m better than everyone else, but when you armor up, you are in the exact same place when you’re standing in I’m not enough as you are when you’re standing in I’m better than everyone else. So I want you to start to recognize what situations lead you to armoring up. What does your armoring up process look like? Body language, words, thoughts, what are your armoring behaviors? I get more and more intense. I often fold my arms across my body, I lean in with a real weird one-eyed lean-in that my dad does, and both my sisters work for me, they’re like, oh, no, no, ma’am, sit down. They’re like, you can’t give us the one-eyed dad.

BB: So think about, when do you armor up? What do you use? And I’ll come back next week and we’ll go through some more of the armored versus daring leadership indicators and elements. In the meantime, armor off, heart open, grounded confidence, awkward, brave, and kind.

BB: The Dare To Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo and Andy Waits, and the music is by The Suffers.

© 2021 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, April 5). Brené on Armored Versus Daring Leadership, Part 1 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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