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On this episode of Dare to Lead

This episode is the first of a two-part series on feedback, and I’m talking with my sister Barrett Guillen, chief of staff for Brené Brown Education and Research Group, about professional feedback. We get very honest about the feedback that we have received over the years, as well as how it felt, what we’ve tried to do about it, where we slip up, and where we’ve made strides.

About the guest

Barrett Guillen headshot

Barrett Guillen

Barrett Guillen is (OFFICIALLY) Chief of Staff for Brené Brown Education and Research Group and (UNOFFICIALLY) the boss of Brené. With her team, Barrett supports both Brené and the organization by helping to prioritize competing demands, managing relationships, and building connective tissue and strategy across all business initiatives. Barrett holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Kinesiology from the University of Houston. After more than a decade in education in the Texas Panhandle, Barrett and her family made the move back to the Houston area to join the BBEARG team in making the world a braver place.  Having the opportunity to work with her sisters everyday has been one of the great joys of her life. Outside the office, you can find Barrett spending time with her family (immediate and extended), enjoying her daughter’s games, eating her husband’s famous burgers, floating in the water (any water!), or on the pickle ball court.

Show notes

Dare to Lead _ Brené Brown MSW

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

The ultimate playbook for developing brave leaders and courageous cultures. Daring leadership is a collection of four skill sets that are 100% teachable. It’s learning and practice that requires brave work, tough conversations, and showing up with our whole hearts.


Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I am Brené Brown, and this is the Dare to Lead Podcast. On today’s podcast, I am talking with my sister, Barrett Guillen, and we are talking about the hardest feedback that we’ve received in a professional context. Our therapeutic feedback, none y’all business. [laughter]

Barrett Guillen: Catch it on the “Sister Series.” [laughter]

BB: Yeah, catch it… Exactly. You want to know about our personal hard feedback? The “Sister Series” that we did this summer on The Gifts of Imperfection would be your one-stop shopping for personal disclosure and feedback. We’re going to talk about professional feedback today and we’re just going to be really honest about the feedback that we received, how it felt, what we’ve tried to do about it, where we slip up, where we’ve made strides. And this is part one of a two-part series. The second part is talking about giving engaged feedback, and the checklist that I put together that’s in Dare to Lead and how we’ve used it, how it’s been successful, where we’ve struggled to put it into action. So, we’re glad you’re here. Welcome to Dare to Lead.


BB: Okay, so before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Barrett Guillen, who I’ve known since, let’s see, the day after she was born, and my mom brought her home with her identical twin sister, Ashley, and I said, “Holy shit. Are they staying?”

BG: Forever.


BB: I was only eight but I probably said exactly that. [chuckle] I was like eight years old on the outside, but Walter Matthau on the inside. [laughter] So, Barrett is officially my chief of staff. So, she’s a Chief of Staff for Brené Brown Education and Research Group. Unofficially, she is known around these parts as the boss of me, the boss of Brené. She leads a team that supports me and the organization by helping prioritize a lot of the competing demands that I have and that we have, managing relationships and building connective tissue and strategy across all the business initiatives. Just… It doesn’t work without her. I don’t know how else to say it. It doesn’t work without you.

BG: No, I agree.


BB: That, my friends is…

BG: It wouldn’t be as fun, for sure.

BB: No, for sure. That, my friends, is grounded confidence. Barrett has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Kinesiology from the University of Houston. She spent a decade in education in the Texas Panhandle. Her family moved back from Amarillo, woot-woot, to Houston so she could join the BBEARG team and help us make the world a braver place. Barrett always talks about having, and I do this too, I think having the opportunity to work with our sisters is just a great joy in our lives. Outside the office, you can find Barrett spending time with her family, immediate and extended, enjoying her daughter’s games. They are the… If we were the Spice Girls, they’re Sporty Spice. The entire family is super annoyingly athletic. I’ll play something for a year and I’ll say, “Hey, you should try this,” and then they beat our ass every time. It’s awful. Yes or no?

BG: True, yeah.

BB: Ah, rude. And her husband’s actually…

BG: He’s the worst. [laughter]

BB: He’s the worst. How many people were in Frankie’s high school?

BG: He graduated in a class of five.

BB: Yeah, in like a small West Texas town, and so he was all-state tennis, all-state baseball, all-state football, all-state everything, all-state ping-pong. He’s my most serious ping-pong competition in the family. Sorry, Barrett.

BG: And now pickleball.

BB: And now pickleball. Piss me off. They grill a lot of burgers. They swim in any water that’s deep enough to swim in. And they’re… And Barrett’s my pickleball partner, which is really fun.

BG: True.

BB: Yeah. All right, should we dive in?

BG: Let’s dive in.


BB: Okay, you first. Hardest feedback?

BG: So, this was hard for me to define, so I put it into two groups.

BB: Okay.

BG: I put it into kind of my life’s work, personality feedback, and then also a skill set that I haven’t quite totally mastered, but I’m really working on. So, what would you like for me to start with first?

BB: Let’s start with the big one, the kind of like, the “who you are” feedback, or… I don’t know if it’s who you are or the habits you’ve developed.

BG: Yeah, let’s go with habits I’ve developed, I like that better. [laughter] I think that I can have emotional reactivity sometimes, and I’ve definitely gotten that feedback. I think I have officially reported to everyone on our leadership team at some point throughout my career with BBEARG, and definitely have gotten that feedback from a couple of y’all along the way.

BB: What does that mean, emotional reactivity?

BG: I think that I can show up sometimes in a way where I don’t fully think through what we’re talking about and just emotionally react to what you’re saying, just my gut reaction is to just spit something out, usually it’s emotional, and usually it’s not fully baked.

BB: Is it helpful?

BG: Not usually.

BB: Not usually. So, I’m going to ask a really honest question. Do you think some of that has to do with having a job where you’re often trying to protect my time or my energy, or protect parts of me?

BG: Oh, that’s a good question. I would love to say the answer’s yes, but I think it goes back to even before that. I think it’s probably the more grounded I’ve become in my confidence in this job, I think the less I do that. And I think I’ve worked on it a lot, so I would hope that I don’t show up that way very much anymore, but I think it’s part of my life’s work and just slowing down, taking it in. You talk about this sometimes where it’s like, “Do I have enough information to freak out?” and I think that’s really helpful. And I have found myself really pausing to think about, “Do I have enough information to freak out? Does freaking out help?”

BB: Yeah, even if I have all the data, “Do I need to freak out?  Will it be helpful?”

BG: Yeah, and I also really… I would say that part of my job I think is, calm is contagious. And so, I think part of falling into my grounded confidence in this role is that my calm is contagious for you a lot.

BB: Very. Oh my God, Jesus. If y’all can see the look, I’ve got a searing look, I’m looking at Barrett with like, yes, I’m desperately addicted to your calm.

BG: Yeah, so I think when things are really stressful and when things can feel really hard, I can definitely find myself reacting emotionally to things, instead of stopping, thinking things through. And I’ve really learned from you a lot, the pause. I don’t have to have something to say immediately. I can stop and think, and I want to make sure what I’m contributing is meaningful and not just reactive.

BB: I think I’m one of the people who have given you the emotional reactivity feedback.

BG: Yes. [laughter] and a side of working out. But helpful, I mean, because I want to contribute, and I don’t think reacting emotionally is helpful.

BB: How was it to hear that? Did it resonate for you or was there a wall of, “That’s bullshit” before it penetrated to, “Yes”?

BG: Totally a wall of, “That’s bullshit, you don’t know me.” [laughter]

BB: Okay, Ted Lasso.

BG: Yeah, but I think it’s definitely true, and I think I’ve worked on it a lot, and I’ve heard from you and other people on our leadership team that I’ve done a great job in that area. But it’s… I constantly have to think about it.

BB: Yeah, I haven’t seen that reactivity in a really long time. So what I’ve seen is the more you’re doing your work, the more rested, the more that you’re working out, you’re taking care of yourself, the less emotionally reactive you are. Does that feel right?

BG: Oh yeah, I think 100%.

BB: Do you think you’re emotionally reactive in your personal life?

BG: I think I can be. I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head. When I’m tired, when I’m burned out, when things feel half-assy for me, you know, like the half-ass mom, the half-ass chief of staff, the half-ass leader, the half-ass everything, I think I can fall into that. But I’ve really been trying to lean into humanizing that and it’s not half-ass everything that it’s like we’re all really doing the best we can. Can you believe I’m saying this?

BB: Yes.

BG: We’re all doing the best we can. So I think it can show up for me, both professionally and personally, but I think the reasons that it will show up are the same for both: Tired, stressed…

BB: Overwhelmed. Yeah.

BG: Not taking care of myself, not moving, not working out, not asking for what I need, being resentful.

BB: Ooh, yeah. Some of y’all in our family really struggle with that resentment thing.

BG: Yeah, I know. We do.


BB: So I’ll do my personal one first that I think we may end up in like a deep place here, God forbid, right?

BG: I won’t look. We won’t make eye contact, yeah.

BB: We won’t make eye contact. We’re sitting together at a table. So I think for deeply personal reasons, the hardest feedback that I’ve received as a leader is that I can be scary when I’m scared. And you’ve given me that feedback… Everybody’s given me that feedback. The one thing I will say that I am proud of is that I do ask for feedback and take it well, I think. But that was really hard to hear, especially because we come from a family where when people got scared, they were scary, right? And I didn’t want to be that person, but I think I am, by default, that person. It’s… When we talk about things like anxiety or anger, even anger, the research I did for the new book, for Atlas of the Heart, you know, anger is actually one of those things that’s state and trait. Meaning that the trait part of state and trait is some of us are more wired for it. And then state is being angry, trait is, I have a propensity for anger. So, I don’t know how much of my being scary when I’m scared is state and how much of it is trait, but I’m sure I come by it, honestly.

BB: And it is such a… Being a scary person when you’re afraid is such the antithesis to courageous leadership. It unravels trust, it keeps people on eggshells. So, I think it was really painful to hear that I had become the thing that I didn’t want to become in some situations. Do you think it’s true, that I can be scary when I’m scared?

BG: Yes, I think it’s true. And I think for both of us, we can tell when it’s outside of our awareness. It’s like it should be huge flags for us because we’re both usually really aware of it. And I think what a beautiful gift that we have people in our lives that will talk to us about it.

BB: Yeah, that is such a gift. And that gift, I think, comes at invitation, right?

BG: Totally.

BB: Yeah, like I’ve never really worked with anyone that has more openness to feedback than you. Yeah, you’re…

BG: Well, I mean, one of my values is growth.

BB: Oh, that’s… Well, yeah.

BG: And so I think it’s… Along with my personal work, I want to show up at work and be a great leader for the team that I lead, and I just feel like you can’t do that if you’re not curious about what you can be doing better every day.

BB: A hard stop. Thank y’all for joining the podcast. [chuckle] That’s it. You know, I think that’s it. And I think for me, I am so embodied, thinking about Prentis Hemphill and their work on embodiment, I am so embodied. I have a strong connection with my body, I feel things in my body. I know when I’m being scary. I almost get like, there’s a film over the world. I see things in this blurry way. I don’t yell or scream or threaten, some of the behaviors we saw, I think, growing up when people were afraid, but I get super intense. Is that fair?

BG: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced you like yelling or screaming or raising your voice scary. I think it’s just… I’ve heard you say this, so I feel okay to repeat it. [chuckle]

BB: Uh-oh, y’all.

BG: The same intensity that drives your creativity also can drive your fear when you’re scared about something.

BB: Yeah.

BG: I don’t think it’s like yelling or throwing shit, I think it’s… I think you’re right, it’s the intensity at which you come to the table.

BB: Yeah, and that’s interesting because a lot of founders that I’ve worked with, that you know too, a lot of the big founders that we’ve worked with, that lead big companies that everyone listening right now knows and uses probably have that same intensity. And they create eggshells in their leadership teams, and we’re often invited in by someone on the leadership team to help with the fear and eggshell and intensity that’s been created by a founder who that intensity has served the company. Right?

BG: Yes.

BB: We know all the people we’re talking about, right?

BG: Yes.

BB: Yeah.

BG: But let me ask you a question, do you think that the people that we’re talking about, these founders, have teams that are like, “I’d like to share some feedback with you about how you can show up sometimes when you’re intense”?

BB: No. No, because we’re often called in to mediate that.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And then that doesn’t work.

BG: So then, are you a great example? I think then that you’re a great example of someone who has that intensity, both creatively and also sometimes in fear, that you’re aware of, that doesn’t create eggshell-y environments.

BB: Yeah, but I have to work on that shit every day.

BG: I didn’t say it was easy.

BB: It’s exhausting.

BG: I just said you were a good example of it.

BB: Yeah, I have…

BG: So you’re aware of it.

BB: I am totally aware of it, but the other thing is, I think I’ve looked at a couple of the founders that we’ve worked with, it really is a founder’s paradox…

BG: I believe it.

BB: Yeah, that for a lot of folks… And you see it sometimes in CEOs, but I think it’s with founders, it’s this intensity, this grind, this frickin’, “I’m going to get this shit done no matter what happens.”

BG: The dig deep button you guys have is something.

BB: Yeah, it’s insatiable. We can dig deep like no one. And then what drives that, I think, is no matter how much equity or money or influence you promise other people, the other people are still not the founder. And so… I don’t know. I think it is why you see kind of boards moving founders over often and replacing them with CEOs that have maybe sometimes more skill sets in leading, but then people really miss the energy and the, I don’t know, the zhuzh or whatever that is that the founders bring. It’s a dilemma. I’m not a normal person. Do you know what I mean? And I know that about myself. I know that I think in really weird terms, like I always see a million things in a constellation and what connects and what does those things, and so I get really easily distracted when things aren’t big and conceptual, and I get weedsy and then I get mad.

BB: But I also… I know that it doesn’t matter how great the conceptual connections are if the weeds doesn’t put it together and make something of it. It’s just me and my beautiful mind garage. [chuckle] So I think what I’ve had to do is make a practice of being curious about myself, about what other people are feeling, about what I put other people through.  Being curious about the best way to lead, asking more questions than having answers. And it’s the same answer as you, taking a deep breath, pausing. I mean, you know that I’ll call a timeout in a meeting in a heartbeat.

BG: Yeah.

BB: I’ll just be like, “I’ve got to have a timeout,” and I’ll walk outside.


BG: Walk in the parking lot. If you drive by and she’s walking the parking lot, just be like, “Come back.” No, I’m just kidding.

BB: No, I do, I walk the parking lot and I come back a different person.

BG: Yeah, yeah. When we talked about the timeout, it changed everything to give ourselves permission to be like, “This isn’t productive. Let’s take a break.”

BB: Yeah, and I think,  “This is not productive.” I’ve heard everybody on the leadership team say that at one time or another, like “This is no longer productive.” And I think apologizing is a function of courage, and I want to be a brave person, so I never really struggle with apologizing.

BG: No. Along with my own personal therapy, I do also leadership coaching work with a coach, and I remember talking to her the other day, and I was like, “I think the hardest thing about leadership for me has been being a great person to other great people does not make you a great leader.”

BB: Say that again.

BG: Oh my God, I got to say it again. [laughter] Being a great person and a great human and caring about other people does not automatically make you a great leader. Because I’m a very caring person and I care about people. My emotional reaction is what makes me a wonderful person and what also can get in my way because I care a lot about people. But I think the hardest thing for me about being a leader is, I can care about you, I can ask about how your kids are doing, I can ask about what’s going on outside of work, that’s the easy part for me; the hard part for me is accountability, difficult conversations. Those have been harder for me because I’m just a naturally emotional person who cares about people.

BB: I’m really thinking about this because it’s so funny when you sit across from Barrett at work, it’s like her damn phone goes off all the time, but it’s not people calling, it’s alarms. And I’m like, “Oh my God, what is that?” She goes, “Oh, we went up with a hard post today, I want to check on Zehra to how she’s doing with… If the comments are shitty or not.” “Oh, this is… I need to check on someone.” “Oh so-and-so’s electricity is out from the storm last night.” So you are a really caring person, but I’ve seen you lean into really hard conversations in the last year.

BG: Oh, I do, it’s just I have to work a million times harder at that than I have to about addressing fears and feelings. I’m much better at that, I’m much better at reading people. Someone can show up in a meeting and I can just follow up with them after and just like, “You seem distracted. I just wanted to check in.” That’s easy. Which I know that’s not easy for everybody, but for me that’s easy. I actually, that’s just who I am. But that doesn’t make you a good leader. And I think the other things… That’s why I loved Dare to Lead so much because it really gave me something to lean into.

BB: That’s so interesting when you look at daring leadership versus armored leadership, and kind of in the book, those 16 buckets where people can have such different strengths and limitations. I think you pointed out something really important though. I think that the best of us and the parts of us that would really need to change and grow are on the same continuum, and you don’t want to throw out the whole continuum. So, the best of you is emotional connection and on the exact same continuum is emotional reactivity. The best of me is creative intensity and the worst of me is intensity and fear.

BG: When the intensity is not being used for good? [chuckle]

BB: Yeah, yeah, when I’m using my super power of intensity for evil.

BG: [laughter] I know.

BB: Or not evil just… I can really lose my shit sometimes, especially if I feel like we’ve done something as an organization that will reflect poorly on me, around my values or my integrity, that’s when I really get scary.

BG: And that is so hard because in all the partnerships that we’ve had with a lot of really amazing other companies, it’s really hard because we are so careful and intentional about the words we use, the images we use, the briefs that we use. It’s hard when other people aren’t that same way, so when you say that, it just is a reminder for me of why we’re so intentional and why we’re so careful because this work means so much to so many people and we’ve changed so many lives that I really am proud of how intentional and thoughtful we are about everything we put into the world.

BB: Yeah, I think… I am so proud of it too, and we are very intentional, especially around issues of representation, diversity, equity, belonging, issues around gender, issues around not using shame, even though it seems so seductive to shame the shit out of people that are making us crazy. And then when we are in these collaborations and partnerships and we’re in our little boat, our boat of intention, and then they do something really thoughtless and I’m like, “My fucking little boat cannot take on your water.”

BG: Yes.

BB: And that’s when I get the oar and start banging the other boat. [chuckle]

BG: Intensity, intensity. [laughter] No, just kidding. But yeah, and when we lose the power to control that, which we’re really good at not doing that too…

BB: And the worst case scenario is, then I see something on social media that says not, “Hey, Acme Brick, I’m really disappointed in you,” or “Hey, big grocery store chain.” It’s, “Hey, Brené Brown. You broke my heart. I didn’t think you believed this.”

BG: Mm-hmm. [laughter] Who were you talking to when you were like, “And then I’m driving down 610, and I’m like, unfollow me.”

BB: [laughter] Yeah, no, it’s like when I say something about politics, it’s a really big… It’s not conservative women, it’s really far right white women who will be like, “I’m unfollowing you, stick to inspiring me.” And I’m like, “You don’t need to announce it. It’s not like if I’m on 610 and we’re driving next to someone and then I go straight and you pull off on 59, that you have to roll down your window and be like, ‘Hey, I’m leaving now. I’m unfollowing!'” Just keep your window rolled up and take the left turn, shithead. [laughter]

BG: Oh my God, you’re still… How are you surprised by this post?

BB: Yeah, yeah. And so… But I’m very careful.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Not… I’m not careful.

BG: You’re thoughtful.

BB: I’m thoughtful.

BG: Yes.

BB: Words and trust are my currency.

BG: Yes.

BB: It’s all I have. I don’t really make anything. I guess I sell… I’ve got books, but it’s words and trust, and so I’m really thoughtful about those things.

BG: And we have worked so hard to keep the equity in our community and so when there is a partner or when we take on water for someone else, it’s really hard.

BB: Or when we we do it ourselves, when we make a mistake.

BG: Or we do it ourselves.

BB: Yeah, which is 50/50. Not any more really, more like 30% us and 70%. So, I get really intense and fearful, and I’m working on it. I read these books. [chuckle] This is like a secret, I’m letting y’all in it.

BG: I’m like, “What books?”

BB: She’s a mystery writer from Canada, Louise Penny, and her protagonist is Armand Gamache, and he leads… He’s the Director of Homicide in Quebec. And he’s just this fantastic leader, definitely flawed, but a lot of times, I’m like, “WWAD, what would Armand Gamache do right now?” [laughter] If anyone reads Louise Penny books… If one day I go missing and you can’t find me, I’ll be in Three Pines. That’s the fictional little Quebec town, which I have to believe is real, so don’t burst my bubble in the comments or anything. But I think a lot about fictional leaders and historical leaders, and calm as a superpower. Anxiety is the most contagious human affect. Calm is also as super contagious, which is why I like working with you because a lot of people… When I get freaked out about something, we will be somewhere and I’m like, “What is happening? And they didn’t tell me this was going to be happening, and fuck this, I’m not doing this.” And you are always like, “Yeah, that’s a choice. Should I let them know or we want to do like stage a walkout, or how do you want to… ” [laughter] Yes or no? Is that what you do?

BG: No, it’s true. I got that from Murdoch, that’s a choice.

BB: Yeah, Murdoch. Yeah, that’s a choice.

BG: A strong choice, but it’s a choice.

BB: Yeah, that’s Murdoch. It’s a choice, but it’s a strong choice. I remember walking down the streets of London with Murdoch. I was just on this horrific media schedule in London and walking to an event, and I’m like, “I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it, I swear to God, I’m not doing it. Just turn… I’m not doing it.” And he’s like, “We can not do it. It’s a choice.” Yeah, and then the minute I know there’s choice there…

BG: [laughter] It’s funny because… I hate, yeah.

BB: Go ahead, say it, asshole.

BG: There’s not really choice.


BG: I mean, I guess there is but…

BB: No, there’s always a choice.

BG: There’s always a choice.

BB: There’s always a choice.

BG: Yeah, that’s true. That’s going to be a hard conversation, if you make that choice to not go on or go on the stage, or decide you’re not going to do the event when you’re walking there…

BB: Yeah, but I mean…

BG: There’s a choice.

BB: It’s a choice.

BG: It is totally… You’re right.

BB: It is totally a choice. That’s why I thought Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles…

BG: Love them. Thank you. If you’re listening, thank you.

BB: Yeah, they made a choice. And I had been in that place before where I had to choose my physical and mental health over something.

BG: Yes.

BB: And it was a hard… It was. But to be able to choose disappointing others over betraying yourself, that’s courageous.

BG: Yes.

BB: And I’m going to tell you something, I wasn’t flippin’ 20 feet in the air, staring down the barrel of a broken neck if I got lost in a flip, you know what I mean.

BG: No.

BB: So, I have made that choice once or twice in my career, where I just said, “I can’t do it.”

BG: That’s true.

BB: Either for a scary family reason, like someone was really sick and I just said I can’t go and…

BG: Also very thoughtful and very intentional, I don’t even know how many events you’ve done and I think we’ve cancelled two.

BB: Yeah, I’ve probably done thousands over the last 10 years. Yeah.

BG: So, yeah.

BB: Yeah, and we’ve found replacements for them and we had speakers lined up to go in my stead so we’re intentional about it, but I guess there’s always a choice, and I think I have to know.

BG: [chuckle] You’re right. There is actually a choice.

BB: She’s saying that, because she’s like, “Note to self, always tell her she has a choice.”


BG: You said it, not me. No I’m just kidding. And you do have a choice.

BB: I do.


BB: All right, let’s talk about, what is the skills-based feedback?

BG: Oh yeah. Okay, I’m looking forward to this because I’m ready for some coaching. Are you ready to give it?

BB: Is it something I do well?

BG: Yes, I think it’s something you do really well.

BB: Okay, great. Hit me.

BG: So I have this really hard time being on the balcony and moving to the dance floor. So being in the weeds of things and then moving up to a strategic level because I feel like I pretty much live in the weeds, and it’s very hard sometimes. I can think things through, I can pretty much figure out how things are going to end if we go this route or this route, but it’s really hard for me to get out of the weeds, to think strategically, to come back to the weeds and to go back and forth. I think you do this very well, but it is something that I still struggle with because I do feel like I kind of live in the weeds.

BB: So if you’re listening, this is language we use a lot here, which is, “Come on, pull up, pull up. You’re zoomed in, you’re in the weeds, pull up, come off the dance floor and look at the dance floor from the balcony. Get the big picture. Zoom in, zoom out” and that is definitely a skill set. I think it’s not easy, but it’s not conceptual either, you have to know where the stairs are.

BG: Well, shit, I didn’t know there were stairs.

BB: Well, how do you think you’re getting up and down from the balcony to the dance floor, you think you’re jumping or what?

BG: Hence the problem.

BB: Hence the problem. Yeah. Because when you jump down from the balcony into the weeds, it feels like a free fall, and then when you’re in the weeds on the dance floor and you look up at the balcony, you’re like, “How the hell do I get up there?” And this is like a Anne Lamott Bird by Bird, answer, step by step, and the stairs from the dance floor to the balcony and from the balcony back down to the dance floor. So from the weeds and execution to strategy, and then from strategy back to execution are the five Cs. There are only five stairs.

BG: Are you serious?

BB: Yes, yeah. That’s how I do it. So, if I’m making a decision and we’re talking about the weeds of getting something done and how are we going to execute this, and I see people getting lost and they’re missing the big picture, I try to grab everyone on the team and say, “Let’s go up these five stairs, give me some color. Tell me more about what we’re doing and tell me the why. Two, give me context. Tell me what else is happening in the organization at the same time this is happening. I want to know the context in which it’s happening, not just in the organization, but outside the organization. What’s happening in the world? What’s happening with our partners. What’s happening? Third step, connective tissue. How does this connect to other strategies that we’re trying to work against? What is the cost and the consequence?” So the five Cs, the stairs from strategy to execution, back up and down, dance floor to balcony, color, context, connective tissue, cost and consequence. And no matter how ass high in the weeds you are, let’s say podcast scheduling, that seems like a very weedsy thing that you’re always weed whacking around in. Is that true?

BG: True.

BB: Yeah, and then we start to say, “Okay, what day are we going to do this? And what day are we going to do this? And what is the record date, and then when is the release date? Contractually, are we on the right thing?” And then we start to lose sight. It doesn’t feel fun anymore. It doesn’t feel adventurous anymore. And so then we need to just hold each other’s hands and say, “Okay, back up the stairs. Let’s put some color in this. Why are we doing this? We’re trying to unlock the world we’re living in right now for people. What is the context? Full-blown shitshow, Delta variant, ongoing race reconciliation, and hopefully in my mind, revolution.” Coming up to the holidays, back to school. That’s the bigger context. What’s the connective tissue? Well, the connective tissue is we’ve got a book coming out in November. We’ve got a show that we’re planning. We’ve got a million things going on. We’ve got events. I’m giving the commencement address, I’m doing… That’s the connective tissue. What’s the cost of not getting this right? What’s the cost of staying in the weeds? The cost is we may end up with guests that I don’t really want to talk to, you know?

BG: Yeah, and then it’s just a struggle because it’s not what we’re trying to put out into the world. It’s not the content we want to put out.

BB: And then what’s the consequence?

BG: Your health.

BB: My health, but the health of our organization.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And we’re not walking with people through hardship right now, which is what I want to be doing. And so the stairs from execution…

BG: God, this is helpful.

BB: Yeah, and the thing is, it’s hard because when you’re on the dance floor… This is what happens… When you’re on the dance floor. All of a sudden, “du du du”, house music beat, “du”, everyone starts just mosh pitting. Weeds, weeds, execution, execution, and then we’re like, what are we even doing down here?

BG: Oh my God. Yes, we are.

BB: Yeah, and so someone has to grab a hand and it needs to be… That’s leadership and say, “Let’s take a walk back up the stairs, let’s look from the balcony at ourselves, even, on the dance floor.” So up and down, and when you’re on the balcony and you’ve got all these great ideas and you’re in strategic, creative mindset, it’s usually the operations leader, like in our case, Suzanne, or Tati that’ll say, “Grab my hand, let me walk you down.”


BG: True.

BB: True. Yeah, from your pie in the sky thinking and this great ideation, to the reality of execution operationalizing. But they do it, it’s the same stairs, same set of stairs.

BG: Oh, I mean, I can’t tell you how many times a day I use the five Cs and I’ve never, ever thought about it from the dance floor balcony perspective. Never.

BB: Yeah, it’s the path, up and down.

BG: Do you think that… I’ll just use myself specifically, since we’re doing this podcast…

BB: Yeah.

BG: Could one, or myself, could I be using the weeds in an armor-y way?

BB: Always.

BG: Oh.

BB: Always.

BG: Say more.

BB: What we’re good at and what we… What we’re good at or what we have assigned ourselves as our contribution, or where we find our value can often become our armor, so I can use creating as armor. How many times have I said to people early in my career, early in BBEARG, “Stop shitting on my parade.”

BG: Yes.

BB: I have got these great ideas and now you’re telling me, “Oh, this isn’t going to take six months, this is going to take two years. This isn’t going to take $10,000, this is going to take $100,000 to set it up.” You’re shitting on my aces here. That’s a card term.


BG: Tracking. [laughter]

BB: Barrett and I are very serious euchre players. We play with my sister Ashley, and then our CFO, Charles, is also a euchre player. And so in euchre, when you’re trying to take a trick, sometimes you lead with an ace and sometimes your ace can be trumped by a nine or something, but in the trump suit. And so our saying, because we’re lovely and highly fancy people, is, “Stop shittin’ on my ace.”


BG: Yeah.

BB: But I think what can happen is… I use what I’m good at to protect me from having to do some of the stuff I don’t want to do, which is understand the gritty facts. And in the weeds, I think…

BG: Because I love strategizing and I believe I come up with some great ideas.

BB: You do.

BG: I just feel like it’s… Like what you said, jumping without the stairs. It’s a very difficult transition.

BB: Yeah, I think the stairs is good because it’s like one at a time, it’s slow.

BG: Yeah.

BB: It’s not you’re jumping from the balcony or leaping up and pulling yourself up on it, you’re walking.

BG: So my calendar shouldn’t say 3 o’clock strategy thinking? [chuckle]

BB: Yeah, you can, but you’re going to have to take the stairs up…

BG: Yeah.

BB: From the weeds. You can’t just jump up and heave yourself up there. There has to be a… The stairs, the five Cs, is a third space.

BG: God, this is like, I’m having a moment.

BB: Yeah, I think it’s helpful. The five Cs is a third space and it’s the space that links strategy and execution, weeds and creativity. And great leaders are like Hugh Grant coming down the stairs in, what’s that? When he’s dancing?

BG: I don’t know.

BB: Oh no. What it is, what’s the movie?

BG: I don’t know, you’re not going to get it out of me. I can picture it, but…

BB: No, it’s…

BG: Let me Google it.

BB: (singing) All I want for Christmas…

BG: I don’t know.

BB: Yes, you do.

BG: I don’t.

BB: It had a lot of storylines, including the one with Keira Knightley… The guy who’s like… Oh God.

BG: You know I don’t watch movies, you keep asking… Maybe I’m having trouble Googling it.

BB: Jen Hatmaker hates it. It’s all I remember.


BB: It may have one too many storylines. Bill Nighy is in it, he plays the old rock star, definitely not something you’ve seen with Gab because it’s not a kid movie. We’re Googling this, don’t even take this shit out. Where does Hugh Grant play the Prime Minister?

BG: Okay. Hugh Grant… Prime Minister… Love Actually?

BB: Love Actually.

BG: Well, there you go.

BB: Yes, yeah, he comes down the stairs dancing. That’s what this third space is, you’ve got to do it with a vibe.

BG: Okay, helpful, because I usually have the five Cs in most areas of our business. I am not taking people by the hand slowly up the stairs, so this is a really great opportunity for me to stretch.

BB: I don’t think any of us are doing it. I’m not taking people down the stairs. I’m not taking people down the stairs. I’m shouting over the balcony. She’s shaking her head yes, it’s really rude.

BG: I’m thinking, I’m thinking.

BB: Okay.

BG: Okay, this is great, this is good. See, we’re identifying the problem.

BB: Yeah, so that was actually my skill set that I was going to work on, weirdly.

BG: See, that’s great.

BB: Is I don’t pause enough to share the five Cs [chuckle] but I demand them from everyone.

BG: Maybe this is what makes us such a good team, because I like the dance floor and you like the balcony.

BB: Yes, except then I’m screaming from the balcony and you’re, you know…

BG: “I can’t hear you. The music’s too loud.”


BB: I see your mouth moving.

BG: “Wah wah, wah… ” No, I’m just kidding.

BB: Yeah. This is helpful.

BG: God, this is so helpful.

BB: Yeah, we need to start thinking of the five Cs not as a…

BG: Weedsy, “What is the deliverable”?

BB: No, it is the third space between strategy and execution, between creative and operations.

BG: I mean, it’s so helpful because I actually do think we use the five Cs as understanding deliverables.

BB: Right.

BG: But it’s way more.

BB: It’s way more. Understanding deliverables really should be more of our “paint done.: You know, paint done. What does “done” look like? That’s not a strategy or creative question, that’s an execution question. What does “done” look like? Hey, Barrett, I need you to get all these tools for me from Angie. What does “done” look like? When you say get them from her, “Oh I want you to get me a list, get Bryan on it. You know, get them to me physically.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: “And I need them by this date.”

BG: Yep. Really helpful.

BB: I’m going to take a nap now, I’m really tired. Up and down the stairs, up and down the stairs, and I tell you that people have something that they’re best at.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah. And the stairs…

BG: I prefer the weeds.

BB: Yeah, I prefer the balcony. And I think that leadership is the ability to go up and down and bring people with you.

BG: Yeah. Hey, so let me ask you this question. So if it’s a skill set that you can learn, is it just practicing the five Cs? Is it just moving to the third space? Is it slowly going up one stair at a time?

BB: It’s moving to the stairs with intention and climbing the stairs with intention; it’s moving to the stairs from the balcony with intention and climbing down with intention.

BG: So that everybody’s not down on the dance floor, dancing to the beat.  Are there cues or are there things that we can look for, when it’s like “Crap, you know what, it’s time to go upstairs”?

BB: I think conflict is like a big flag. I’m trying to think about before we even get there. I think when people are not on the same page, people are looking at problems from different places; like horizon conflict, where my job as this founder and CEO of BBEARG is to keep a 10-year horizon. The leadership team holds five, some of the folks, individual contributors hold six days or six months, and conflict always arises from that because we’re seeing different things, because we’re looking for different things, but the tension in that conflict is always where greatness comes from, and so I think… The same is true with the stairs, I think when… It’s really good responsive versus reactive leaders move up and down the stairs a lot.

BG: Where does role clarity play in this dance?

BB: That’s a great question because it’s such the… It’s such our nemesis sometimes, right. It is really our nemesis sometimes.

BG: Because we’re lean.

BB: We’re super lean, as are many companies now. I think it’s part of it. I think setting the expectation, especially around senior leaders, that… Setting the expectation, then providing them with a coaching that the expectation is, “I expect you to be able to move from execution with your teams up to strategy and back and forth,” but I’ve never sat down and talked to the senior leaders who report to me about this.

BG: Yeah. I mean, it’s just clicking for me, right now, using the five Cs in this way.

BB: Because I’m not good at it, I’m on the balcony. What I’m talking about right now is like, I’m not executing against this conceptual idea of the third space.

BG: Had you thought about this third space before right now?

BB: I knew that the five Cs were how we move from zoomed in to zoomed out, for sure. Because I use them all the time when companies call and ask to engage with us, they’ll either talk to me about big, kind of amorphous strategic issues and then I’ll have to walk them down and say, “I want to know what’s happening at work every day with people.” Or they’ll call me with really weedsy issues and I need a bigger picture, and so I know that I use the five Cs to walk people up and walk people down. It’s the same questions.

BG: Yeah, this was great.

BB: Yeah.

BG: Really helpful.

BB: For me too. Yeah, it was such like a… You watched in IRL, in real life, in real time. Me, having a concept that I use central to my work and never having shared it with people, because I just live in this world of this idea and it’s hard. Yeah. It’s…

BG: I know, but I’m on the phone with you when you talk to every one of these companies and I can see how you use the five Cs to walk them up or down, like I see it. Now that you say it, I could not have put language around it, but it makes complete sense that you say it.


BB: All right. Well, more to come, y’all. If y’all want more of these conversations just about digging into the concepts in Dare to Lead and just me and Barrett talking about them and kind of unpacking them and living inside of them, let us know in the comments on social. We’ll look at LinkedIn on this because I think a lot of our Dare to Lead folks are on LinkedIn. I appreciate you joining us today. It was a great conversation. Barrett, huge thank you.

BG: Oh my gosh, it was so much fun.

BB: There’ll be an episode page for this episode on and part two coming up soon, the Daring Feedback Checklist.

BG: Yeah, when you know you’re ready to give feedback and it’s also… We call it on the website, the Daring Feedback Checklist.

BB: Awesome, we’ll see you next time. Stay awkward,…

BG: Awkward, brave, and kind.

BB: Awkward, brave, and kind.


BB: Bye, y’all.

BG: Bye.

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 Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and the music is by The Suffers.


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

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, September 20). Brené with Barrett Guillen on the Hardest Feedback I’ve Ever Received, Part 1 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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