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On this episode of Dare to Lead

What’s happening in the workplace right now? In this first of two episodes with Adam Grant and Simon Sinek, we talk about what we are seeing in organizations across the world — and there are definitely some trends that emerge. And so much learning. We talk about disconnects between what we know from data and what we’re seeing practiced. We also talk about what high performers actually look like and the most meaningful way to succeed. Connecting with these two is the regularly scheduled gut check that I need.

About the guests

Adam Grant

As an organizational psychologist, Adam Grant rethinks how people lead, work, and live. He has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for seven straight years, and his pioneering research has inspired people to rethink assumptions about motivation, generosity, and creativity. He is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of five books that have sold millions of copies, most recently Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. His TED talks have more than 35 million views, he hosts the chart-topping TED podcast WorkLife, and his viral op-ed on languishing was the most-saved article of 2021. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers and one of Fortune’s 40 Under 40 and has received scientific achievement awards from the American Psychological Association and the National Science Foundation. Adam received his B.A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and he is a former magician and junior Olympic springboard diver. His new weekly podcast is Re:Thinking with Adam Grant.

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is a spark that ignites passion and ideas. He envisions a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired, feel safe wherever they are, and end the day ful­filled by the work they do. As an unshakeable optimist, he believes in our ability to build this world together.

A trained ethnographer, Simon is fascinated by the people and organizations that make the greatest and longest-lasting impact. Over the years, he has discovered some remarkable patterns about how they think, act, and communicate and the environments in which people operate at their natural best.

Simon may be best known for his TED talk on the concept of WHY, which has been viewed over 60 million times, and his video on millennials in the workplace, which reached 80 million views in its ­first week and has gone on to be seen hundreds of millions of times.

He continues to share inspiration through his best-selling books, including global best seller Start With WHY and New York Times best sellers Leaders Eat Last and The Infi­nite Game, as well as his podcast, A Bit of Optimism. In addition, Simon is the founder of the Optimism Company, a leadership learning and development company, and he publishes other inspiring thinkers and doers through his publishing partnership with Penguin Random House called Optimism Press.

His unconventional and innovative views on business and leadership have attracted international attention, and he has met with a broad array of leaders and organizations in nearly every industry. He frequently works with different branches of the U.S. armed forces and agencies of the U.S. government and is an adjunct staff member with the RAND Corporation—one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world.

Simon is also active in the arts and with not-for-profi­t work, or what he likes to call the for-impact sector. In 2021, he founded the Curve: a diverse group of forward-thinking chiefs and sheriffs committed to reforming modern policing from the inside out. Their purpose is to build a profession dedicated to protecting the vulnerable from harm while advancing a vision of a world in which all people feel that justice is administered with dignity, equity, and fairness.

Show notes


Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare to Lead, and I’ve got such a fun episode for y’all, for us. Guess who’s here, Simon Sinek and Adam Grant. I had this idea, I was like, the three of us need to just take turns being on each other’s podcasts. Kind of no prep. What are you seeing, what’s going on? What are you worried about? What are you calling bullshit on, just like, What’s going on? And it turned out to be just a two-part conversation that was so much fun, filled with so many, “No, no, no, no, I don’t think that’s right. Oh yeah. Maybe that is right. Oh, dang, I’m changing my mind. You are right.” I’m glad you’re here. They’re just two back-to-back, really fun episodes. So much learning, I had my mind changed, so much more than I change anyone’s mind. Which I was going in like, “I’m going to talk them into thinking, this is true, because I think it’s true.” And then I was like, “Oh, I think I’m wrong.” Which of course, you know, Adam, the power of knowing what you don’t know. Adam was in his mind changing happy place. So welcome to Dare to Lead, glad you’re here. It’s such a good conversation.

BB: Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about our friends that are on today, so Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist, he re-thinks how people lead work and live, he’s been Wharton’s top-rated professor for seven straight years and his pioneering research has inspired people to rethink assumptions about motivation, generosity and creativity. He is the number one New York Times best-selling author of five books that have sold millions of copies most recently… And oh I don’t like to pick a favorite, but God did I really love Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, such a great book. His TED talks have more than 35 million views, he hosts a chart-topping TED podcast WorkLife, and he has most recently written a viral op-ed on languishing. It was just such an incredible article on this emotion of languishing. I think it was maybe the most saved article of 2021 for The New York Times. He has his BA from Harvard, his PhD from the University of Michigan. He is a former magician and junior Olympic springboard diver, and he’s got a new podcast called Re:Thinking with Adam Grant.

BB: So, y’all got to tune into that because I really love his work and love the way he looks at the world. Speaking of looking at the world through a very unique and a hopeful lens, Simon Sinek. He’s a trained ethnographer, he’s fascinated by people and organizations that make the greatest and longest lasting impact. Over the years, he’s discovered some remarkable patterns about how people think, act and communicate, and about the environments in which people operate at their natural best. Simon’s probably best known for is TED talk on the concept of WHY, which has been viewed over 60 million times, and I’ve got to tell you that everything we do, every time we’re starting a project at Brené Brown Education and Research Group, every time we’ve got an idea, we always say let’s Simon Sinek it. That’s he’s become a verb for us, what’s our why, what’s our how, what’s our what. Is there a why what we think our why is, so you may know him for that, it’s just great. You know Simon continues to share inspiration through his best-selling books, including global best seller, Start with WHY, New York Times bestsellers Leaders Eat Last and The Infinite Game. He’s got a great podcast called A Bit of Optimism.

BB: In addition, he is the founder of the Optimism Company, a leadership learning and development company, and he publishes other inspiring thinkers through this, and he has a publishing partnership with Penguin Random House called Optimism Press. Let’s jump in.


BB: Simon and Adam, welcome guys.


BB: Here we go already y’all. Oh it’s going to be nuts. How are y’all?

Simon Sinek: You both have tons and tons of books behind you, I have LEGO, that just kind of sums it up.

BB: You have a Darth Vader helmet too behind you, Simon.

SS: Okay, you just lost major credibility. No, that is a Mandalorian helmet.

BB: Oh Mandalorian. Wow yeah. I can’t see it exactly, but I don’t know that I would have guessed it. How are you all doing? Let’s start with you, Simon let’s… Since I’ve lost my street cred with you. How are you?

SS: I’m great, thank you. A little bit of a cold, but otherwise feeling great.

BB: Yeah.

SS: Yeah.

BB: Good.

SS: It turns out we can get sick with other things other than COVID.

BB: I know I’ve had most of them, I think in the last three months. It’s like virus palooza. Adam, how are you?

Adam Grant: I am good, I have no complaints. I want to know how you are and what you did during you’re disappearing act, other than training for the pickleball Olympics.

BB: It was hard. It was not what I expected. I did a really tearful podcast about coming back, I went out way too late. I went out kind of horizontally instead of walking out with a little bit of something left, and so it was tough, but it was necessary time. So thank you for asking. It was hard. All right, here’s what I want to do. We have not planned. They don’t know what I’m going to ask them, but I’m curious, and we may do this just like kind of a few times a year. All right, so first question, I want to ask both of you, all three of us work in organizations often, what are you seeing? Adam.

AG: Putting me on the spot first, Simon.

BB: Yeah, I am.

SS: Yeah.

AG: What am I seeing? I’m seeing a lot of leaders who are resisting remote and hybrid work, and I’m seeing a lot of people who are burned out or languishing or both.

BB: Okay.

SS: Yes, and I’m seeing… Meeting a lot of leaders who want answers as to how to find calm in the chaos, and unfortunately, I think we have to just be in the chaos for a little bit, the great resignation is a real thing, and no one knows 100% where it’s coming from, although there is various theories and they don’t know what to do, and I think it’s more about managing chaos right now.

BB: Okay, I would say yes, and yes. I call this return the great awkward. God. People are awkward right now. Leaders feel awkward. Everyone feels awkward. I have to say, and I’ll be curious what your take is on this both of you, I don’t think people are okay, I think to expect people to be okay right now is really unrealistic, I think people are still struggling to regulate emotionally. I think people are still in a lot of grief. I think people are still trying to find their feet. I’m not experiencing in general, that most of us, myself included, I’m finding some solid ground slowly, but I don’t think people in general are okay right now. Do y’all think people are okay right now?

SS: I think you’re 100% right, and I think that extends up through leadership as well, and one of the things that I’m hoping is that leaders express themselves as such, good leaders are recognizing that their people aren’t okay, the less attuned leaders are trying to just force everything back to the way it was sort of like, come back to work and just pick up where we left off. What I’m hoping is that people who are responsible for people are actually more open and saying, “Look, I’m struggling too, and I’m on uneven ground and I don’t know what’s happening, and I feel awkward, and I feel uncertain.” Because I think it normalizes the conversation, because I think right now, the conversations are being had behind closed doors. People in leadership positions are having that conversation with other people in leadership positions with their peers. More junior people are having it with their peers, when nobody’s having with each other, it’s not normalized. And until we normalize it, we can’t help ourselves. We’re human beings, we’ll probably blame the other for the way we feel.

BB: Oh man, that’s true.

SS: I think there’s a huge opportunity. I mean, look, Brené it’s your work, it’s the V word, it’s the vulnerability that we need, I think leaders to start talking about how they feel, not just being curious about how their people feel, though that’s important too.

AG: I’m curious to hear your reactions to something I caught recently, there was a Deloitte comparison of employee well-being and C-Suite expectations and beliefs about employee well-being. If I remember correctly, just under 60% of employees said their mental well-being was excellent or good, but 84% of C-suite executives thought their employees mental well-being was excellent or good. So, the bad news about that is that leaders are underestimating how much people are struggling.

BB: Yeah.

SS: Yeah.

AG: I do think there’s a silver learning in there too, which is more than half of people said my mental health is excellent or good. I’ve actually heard from some people who feel like they are thriving, that COVID forced them to re-think their work and their lives, that they are in a better position than they were before, but they can’t talk about it because they don’t want to make other people feel bad or they don’t want to perpetuate toxic positivity, and so I wonder if we’re actually seeing suppression of both extremes. The people who are struggling…

SS: It’s interesting.

AG: Are having a hard time opening up about it because they feel like everyone expects them to have moved on.

SS: Yeah.

AG: And people who are thriving are also having a hard time talking about it because they don’t want to make anyone else to feel bad. What are your reactions to that?

BB: This is related, not exactly what you’re saying, but one, I agree. I was working with a tech company in Silicon Valley, and I was talking about grief, and I was talking about the number of people that we’re projecting are coming back to work or school, including K through 12 kids, having lost an immediate relative and in the kinship literature, it’s father, mother, sibling, grandparent. And the numbers are huge. It’s just staggering how many people have lost someone within that cohort. And someone raised their hand and said, “I’m in deep grief too, and I haven’t lost anyone and I’m okay.” And I said, “Tell me about your grief.” And he said, “I’m grieving, that we just can’t go back because I’m okay and I’m ready to go back like and we’re back, let’s do this. And so my grief is very ambiguous in a way. I have lost something that is outside of my control and does not mirror what I’m feeling.” And it was so important and such a brave share. But I have talked to people who say, I’m okay, but I’m not talking about being joyful, and in fact, I’m going to do a talk this week for a large number of HR professionals. And one of the questions that came up is, how can we express our joyfulness when everyone is struggling, is it good just to keep it suppressed? I think you’re on to something I have to say, I do not believe those statistics.

SS: Yeah.

AG: You think people are over-estimating or overstating their own well-being.

BB: Yeah, so I think there’s a fundamental mistrust of leadership, and I think surveys put out by leaders, I think employees are scared to say, “I’m not doing okay.” I really do. I think that’s scary for people to say, I’m not doing okay. I think it’s scary for me to look in the mirror and say, “Hey, Brené, you’re not doing okay right now,” much less put it on something that’s going to employers.

SS: One of the big things that I learned during COVID is that we can have two, sometimes opposing feelings, at the same time.

BB: Oh God, yes.

AG: How dare you?

SS: I know.

AG: So un-American.

SS: I know. So I think that there’s this combination of, I have certainty that I don’t want to do this. I’ve certainty that I want something different. I feel joyful, that I’ve made a decision that I would like out of this job or out of this career, but I have anxiety because I don’t know what next. And to live in certainty and anxiety simultaneously, I think is good and fine and normal. And again, to express that as such, it’s inspiring for others who are uncertain about making change, to hear that somebody is confident in that change. But at the same time, to put out that I’m uncertain about next means we can find camaraderie and ask for help, because better to go on that journey with someone than to go on that journey alone.

BB: For sure.

SS: And certain journeys just don’t go well when we try and do them alone. I think what we’re just getting down to… Brené I know you’ve talked about this a big difference between vulnerability and broadcasting our emotions. The very, very, very difficult thing, as opposed to recording yourself by yourself in your room and posting it on social media and telling everybody how you feel versus saying those exact same things to a friend in private. And just how much more difficult that is, and whether it’s joy or whether it’s uncertainty or anxiety, to have that conversation in private with somebody we love and for others to learn to hold space rather than fix.

SS: That’s where I’m hoping all of this pushes us, is that it reinforces the human relationship in a very, very cave man way. In a very un-technological way, sitting in a room with someone and having an uncomfortable conversation and the other person knowing how to hold space for that uncomfortable conversation. Which includes joy and anxiety and all other things at the same time.

BB: I think inherent in me calling either one of you versus putting it out there in a one-way social media post or whatever it is. Me calling one of you and saying, “Do you have a minute. I’m in struggle.” Or, “Do you have a minute? I’ve got some serious anxiety about what’s next.” The reason that’s so much more vulnerable than a broadcast that goes to a ton of people is I’m making a bid for connection, and that bid for connection can be… You can turn away from it. It’s very difficult to… If you put it out on social media, you’ll probably get a couple of supportive comments. If I call you and say, “Hey, do you have a minute I’m struggling.” You’re like, “Oh, I can’t really do it right now.” Or you don’t call me back. Or something like that. The risk of hurt is greater when we make a bid for connection. But when you broadcast something on social media that is not connection that’s communicating.

SS: Yeah.

BB: And it’s not going to be a bomb or solve, salve, S-A-L-V-E. Adam, thoughts.

AG: Yeah, this actually tracks with some research I was reading recently on even the difficulties of disclosure in marriages, where…

BB: Oh God.

AG: Sometimes people hesitate to bring up their problems to their partner because they don’t want to be a burden, or they’re not sure if they’re going to get a solution, and what they forget and what their partners often don’t realize is that they’re looking for acknowledgement that you don’t have to have a solution for somebody’s problem, that just being able to open up about it brings you closer because that bid gets recognized. And I think this has to be orders of magnitude harder at work. To admit to one of your colleagues that you’re supposed to collaborate with professionally, to admit to your boss who has the ability to fire you, it’s so much more difficult. And I think there’s also the fear that then you’re going to be the person who drags everybody else down. That you don’t want to suck somebody into a negative emotional contagion, and so maybe you don’t say anything at all. And I think the result of that is that we end up with workplaces that lack compassion because people don’t know that others are suffering, and as a result, they’re not able to notice it to respond to it or do anything to alleviate it.


BB: I want to ask some really tough questions, I would love to get conversation, but if you’ve got answers, I’ll be even happier. I think I’m pretty clear. I’ve read everything y’all have written, I’ve talked to you, I know y’all, I respect you. Y’all know my work. Is there just a fundamental disconnect between what I think the three of us believe, and it’s not exactly the same, but there’s a pretty healthy Venn diagram, would you all agree?

AG: Definitely.

SS: Mm-hmm. Yes.

BB: Okay, is there a disconnect between what we believe, what we know from data, what we know from experience and the pressure of earning reports, the pressure of performance. I know there’s a disconnect, but is there ever going to be a time where people understand that the human connection way is the way, not just for people and planet, but also for profit, I mean, are we spinning our wheels? I’m frustrated right now.

AG: I want to hear what our resident optimist thinks.

BB: Yeah, me too. Hit us with some of that. A bit of optimism.

SS: Yeah. I don’t think what you’re talking about is anything new.

BB: No?

SS: We’re dopamine-driven animals because we need to find food and get stuff for survival, and dopamine comes easily, whereas the deep relationship stuff that you’re talking about takes time and constant, constant energy. It’s not an event, it’s not a project. It’s like working out, or eating healthy, it’s like, congratulations, you’re in shape, and now you have to keep it for the rest of your life, ha ha. And that’s what relationships are. Relationships are constant, constant, constant maintenance and they ebb and they flow, and none of us are talking about upsetting the goal-driven system that human beings are driven for, we’re talking about seeking greater balance.

BB: Yes.

SS: And the system that we’re living in right now is woefully unbalanced, that we walk into most companies, almost all of their incentive structures are individual performance-based, they don’t reward teamwork or trust or cooperation, and so you get the behavior that you reward. And we’ve doubled down on that, and it yielded fantastic short-term results, and now we’re suffering the side effects of that short-termism. And so, the three of us, I believe in three sides of the same three-sided coin. We’re coming at it from different ways, but we’re all promoting human skills. I hate the term soft skills, hard and soft are opposite, we’re promoting human skills.

BB: Oh. Yeah. Yes.

SS: And none of us have a problem with dopamine and incentives and performance, and none of us have a problem with hard skills and teaching hard skills, what we have a problem with is the imbalance. We seek greater equilibrium. So, I think the frustration will always be there Brené because we’re salmon swimming upstream always. But at the same time, the fact that the three of us have careers, I think is the most optimistic thing in the world. If we existed in the… If we existed in the ’80s…

BB: Yeah.

SS: We’d have nothing.

BB: Yeah.

SS: Right. Seriously, vulnerability in the ’80s and ’90s? Thanks, but no, thanks. The fact that there’s demand for our work means that people are hungry for this. And that’s a good thing.

BB: That’s true, you’re right.

AG: I had a similar reaction, but I wanted to try to maybe do some time travel here and go back a century, because in the 1920s, there was a human relations movement spurring in organizations. There were all the experiments that gave rise to the Hawthorne effect where researchers came in and said, “What if we give you better physical working conditions? What if we improve lighting?” And then realized that all the changes seemed to help on the margin, and maybe it’s actually the attention and being cared about that mattered. I should say, as a… Maybe as a caveat, there’s a John List analysis suggesting that maybe the Hawthorne experiments didn’t do the good we thought they did, and there are open questions about how much in those studies, the kind of attention that came in really mattered. But I think the point stands that a century ago, there was a lot of concern about the quality of life at work, and I think improvements were made, and then people sort of back slid. And there was another human relations movement in the 1960s. It was about enriching jobs and self-actualizing people and trying to create meaningful work and then the ’70s and ’80s sort of obliterated that.

AG: And we’re back again, and so maybe this is a pendulum, and maybe we need to find a way to get it to stop swinging in the wrong direction. But it’s staggering to see the number of organizations that bring us in to teach people to be vulnerable, that ask, “How do we help people find their why?” I know in my world, the number of organizations that ask, “Can you help me build a culture of givers rather than takers? That see value in encouraging people to be generous, not just for the organization, but for the quality of people’s relationships?” You can’t hear that without being heartened, I think.

BB: No, for sure.

SS: The thing that I find really interesting, and this is why I think the forward-thinking leaders are actually a bigger deal than we give them credit, is every executive working at every single company around the entire planet right now, were raised through this sort of Milton Friedman, Jack Welch way of thinking. And that means the total number of senior executives that have experience coming through a company that’s anything other than that is zero. And so I think one of the things that we have to get comfortable with is actually nobody knows what to do exactly because we’ve worked for companies that were better than others, we’ve worked with bosses that were better than others, but since the ’80s up until today, it’s basically been one system that’s been growing upon itself and now we’re trying to steadily take those bricks down off that wall. And so I think being okay with the fact that we actually don’t know the answers is a big part of this.

SS: But finding people who share the values and share at the very minimum, share the belief that we don’t want to do it that way anymore, we know we want to do it a different way, even if we don’t know what the path looks like. That shared values and that cooperation, those teams are what we need more than anything else. We don’t need the answers, because we don’t really know what they are, what we need is those teams who are willing to go on that journey.

AG: And I think there’s some good news on that. Brené, you had Donald Sull on, in the spring, didn’t you? The toxic culture expert?

BB: Yeah.

AG: How encouraging is it that when you look at where the great resignation is happening, people are fleeing toxic cultures at a rate that are 10 times greater than any other culture attribute you can measure?

BB: Including money.

SS: So good.

AG: When we think about what toxic culture is, the idea that nobody wants to work for and kind of run screaming the other direction from places that are dominated by disrespect, abuse, exclusion, selfish and cut-throat behavior, and unethical decisions. That has to put pressure on organizations to say, “If I want to attract and retain talented people, then I have to build a more humane environment.” Doesn’t that give you hope?

BB: First of all, I love Don and Charlie, they’re just the best, but it gives me a ton of hope and all the things that so many people, not just us, but so many people in our field have been saying, diversity, inclusion, ethical decision-making, respectful behavior, trust. These just emerge. It is helpful. I think to your point, Simon, it is hard, and it is very courageous work. I’ve been in organizations right before y’all got there, I’ve been behind you right after y’all have left and done work. And what I hear all the time about the work that the three of us do is, you’re asking us to really put ourselves out there. You’re asking us to really be brave to say, “Look, I’ve held this opinion for the last five years and I fought every one of you and I’ve changed my mind.” Or to say… I just recently had this conversation with someone, Simon, who said, “But he’s a high performer, the highest.” And I said, “I get it. And what about trust?” No everybody hates him. He’s really dangerous. Most people fear him, some people even physically… But did we mention he’s a really high performer?

SS: Yeah.

BB: I thought, “Well, what did you think about that? What did Simon think about that?” “Simon has no patience for it.” And I said, “Why not?” Then they started quoting the Navy SEALs work, and I said, “Yeah.” They’ll pick trust over performance every time, because this person is dangerous to your culture and ultimately to the performance. You can buy some time with someone who’s high performing and an asshole, but the shelf life of that is short.

SS: And 99 times out of 100, when those high performers of low risk exist, the toxic geniuses, sometimes called, 99 times out of 100, at least their immediate leader knows who they are.

BB: Oh, yeah.

SS: And they make a deal with the devil. And this is, really, a cynical point of view now, but…

BB: Hit us. Adam and I will love it.

AG: Speak for yourself, Brené.


SS: So, I have a really cynical point of view, which is, I don’t believe in removing somebody from a team if they’re just toxic. They have to be open to coaching. Maybe nobody’s told them, maybe they had bad leadership, maybe they had a bad incentive structure, and so we intervene, and we’ve learned the skills of how to have an effective confrontation to sit down and talk to them about how they’re showing up and the impact they’re having. And very often they go, “Oh my God, I had no idea.” And that’s wonderful. And the question I ask is, are they coachable?

BB: Yes.

SS: If they’re coachable from a lack of human skills or they’re coachable from a lack of hard skills, great. I can do something with that on both sides. The trouble shows up when they’re uncoachable, and this is where the cynicism starts to creep in, which is, “I do want to remove them, but if I remove them now, it’s too much of a shock to the system, but I’m not going to do this for too long.” And the cynical point is if you’re going to make a deal with the devil, if you’re going to eat lots of chocolate cake instead of exercising, you can do it for a little bit, you just can’t do it for long. And it goes back to balance again, when folks like us come in and go, “I’ll have none of that,” the reality is, you can’t just swoop in and start firing people either.

BB: No.

SS: But to manage the situation, there has to be a plan that keeping a person like this or keeping people like this on the team is not a long-term solution to anything. But I try and balance my idealism with the fact that the reality is you have to manage it. The point is that you have to have a plan that we don’t want this kind of culture and in a short period of time, we are laying the foundation on how to generously help this person find a new job with dignity.

BB: Right, for sure.

SS: At the same time, we’ve been building the platform so that other people know the reason and that we promote teamwork and that we have new training, etcetera. In other words, it’s not just, come in, get rid of the person and everything is great, that it’s a managed process. But you can’t just sit on it and not have the plan. We’re like, “We’ll defer a little bit because that person’s numbers are so good, let’s just hold on a little longer.” That’s unacceptable.

AG: I want to build on that, but first I feel like we need to let the record show that, Brené, you did it. You got Simon Sinek to live up to his name and confess to being a cynic.


AG: I never thought it would happen.

SS: I’ve always admitted I’m cynical.

AG: You say you’re an optimist. That’s your identity.

SS: Right.

BB: I’m going to go back to what Simon says. He is optimistic and a little bit cynical, both things can be true.

AG: Touché.

SS: I have never denied being a cynic. I’m a cynical bastard to the core.


AG: I don’t actually think you’re being cynical. I think you’re being appropriately skeptical to balance out your optimism and maybe you’re being a principal pragmatist, which is that you would like to let that person go immediately. But you know that practically, you have to make sure that the organization can accommodate the change.

SS: No. I think that first of all, as you know my definition of optimism, it’s not naive, nor is it blind. Optimism can be in darkness, but optimism is the undying belief that the future is bright. And we can say, “This is difficult, this is hard, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to get out of this. But I know one thing, that if we work together, we’ll get through this and come out of this stronger than we went in.” That’s optimism. So, you can be cynical and depressed and angry and uncertain, all of those things do not negate optimism. And in fact, optimism I find to be incredibly realistic. But in terms of the pragmatist, I think it’s… You can label it anything we want, I guess. I just think it’s realistic. I believe in idealism that you have to know where you’re going, and then the difficulty is managing the bumpy road towards idealism, that’s the struggle of daily life, and I think our work is very often misused.

BB: Oh, God.

SS: Our work is sometimes used as a sword instead of a shield to justify sometimes what I think is very uncomfortable behavior by, “I demand to work in a place of joy, I demand that you create a space where I can be vulnerable.” I’m like, “You’re missing the point here.” I’ve spent a lot of now time trying to add nuance to what I’ve been preaching for years, because our work, all of our work, I’ve heard all of our work invoked as a sword to justify either anger or sudden behavior on both sides of an equation.

AG: Can I go back to the toxic jerk for a second? Before we go down that, rabbit hole?

BB: We love him.

AG: All right, sorry, I guess this is the competent jerk, right?

BB: No. Yeah, the high-performing jerk.

AG: Yeah, the toxic genius.

BB: Yeah.

AG: Completely aligned with you Simon that we need to find out if they’re coachable first.

SS: Yeah.

AG: I also, though, think that if you have a system where you can be a high performer and toxic, then you have a broken system. Because my definition of performance includes the impact that you have on others.

BB: Yes.

AG: If you have great individual results, but you are undermining the people around you, by definition, you are not a high performer in a collaborative organization. And so in addition to asking, “Is this person coachable?” I want to ask, “How do we reinvent the system to measure whether you’re elevating or undermining others? And how do we put as much weight on that dimension of performance as we do on the individual revenue that you generate?”

BB: So this is such a great question because one of the things that we do, often when we go into companies is we look at their values and we do an audit to find out, have they operationalized these into observable behaviors that are a part of a performance system? And 11% of the companies we’ve worked with over the last 10 years have operationalized into behaviors.

AG: Wow.

BB: 11%. Zero have included those behaviors on performance metrics. So, I’ll give you an example of one of the behaviors we have here that is on our performance metric. So, we have a rule because it just ladders up to our values around taking good care of ourselves and each other and then also being courageous. You can get fired here for talking about people instead of talking to people, but when I ask often in organizations, “Tell me about the behaviors that you see that you believe undermine… Not the culture, because I hate it when culture is like a bolt-on. We have a business and when we have time, we have a culture. Now you have a culture, whether you invest in it that’s different, you have one for sure. But it’s so frustrating to me when I say, “Tell me what you see that you believe is breaking things.”

BB: And sometimes I ask the question, “What has to change or there’ll be severe consequences to the health of the business.” And 90% of it is cultural. No identification of behaviors and no behaviors on performance. And so, this is one way to get to what you’re saying, Adam, that how do we say he’s high performing, or she’s high performing or they’re high performing, if they’re hurting other people or sabotaging other people or… Goes back to Simon’s integration piece. There’s no integration.

AG: Yeah, exactly. You are not a high performer if you don’t make other people better, full stop. Your job then as the leader or manager is to figure out what does it mean in your culture to make other people better? Do you need to share your knowledge freely? Do you need to mentor junior people? Do you need to set boundaries? Brené, to draw in some of your work to shield other people from being overloaded? I think that very few leaders and managers do this work, and in your data, it sounds like none of them are doing the work. But there is low-hanging fruit here. We want teams to be more than the sum of their parts, and to do that, we need to be focused on what it means for people to enhance each other’s success.

BB: Have y’all seen observable, measurable behaviors that ladder up to company values on performance documents?

AG: Corning has it. They made the Gorilla Glass for the iPhone and the iPad, and they have a Corning Fellows Program where they look at in addition to, are you leading a patent that drives a lot of innovation, are you a supporting author on other people’s patents? And this is genius because you’re not going to be like, “Hey Simon, I’m going to pretend to help you for the next nine years in the hope that you will make me 43rd author out in the patent.” It’s the people who day in and day out are helping each other that end up earning those later patent authorships. And so, I find myself now pushing a bunch of organizations to say, “What is your equivalent of later patent authorship? How do the people who show up for each other every day get recognized? And then how do you put that behavior on your performance scorecards?”

BB: Ooh, I love that example. Simon, have you seen it? Have you seen somebody say, “Here’s the value, here’s the value operationalized into behaviors, and we’re going to talk to you about this every quarter, every six months, every year.”

SS: Yeah, also Red Ventures does it. They build things like education and learning into incentives and also recognition. I just had a thought while we were talking, which is, you mentioned the Navy SEALs and other high-performing teams. We talk about them all as a high performing teams or high-performing organizations, and I think so often, I’m just realizing what so many businesses do is they take those stories, and they try to make them into high performing individual.

AG: Yes.

BB: Yes. Say it again, say it again, say it again. People take stories…

SS: They take data that describes high-performing teams, and they try and use it to create high-performing individuals, and when we go and tell these stories, we’re talking about high-performing teams, and there’s team ethic and team… And it’s all team, team, team, and you’d sacrifice for the team, and you don’t want to let the team down. And then businesses say, “Oh my God, I love all this stuff about Navy SEALs, look how amazing Navy SEALs are. I want a team of Navy SEALs,” and they think about the individuals who could be Navy SEALs, but they’re forgetting that it’s a team effort.

BB: Huge.

SS: And one of the stories that I love to tell is a former Navy SEAL was asked, “What kind of person makes it onto the SEALs? What kind of person makes it through the selection process?” And he said, “I can’t tell you the kind of person that does, but I can tell you the person… The kind of person that doesn’t.” He says the star college athlete who’s never really been tested to the core of his being, none of those guys make it through. The preening leader who likes to delegate everything, none of those guys make it through. The guys who show up with huge hulking muscles covered in tattoos to show how tough they are, none of those guys make it through. Some of the guys who make it onto the teams are skinny and scrawny, you might even see them shivering out of fear.

SS: He says, “But what they all have in common is when they are physically exhausted, when they’re emotionally exhausted, somehow some way, they’re able to dig down deep inside of themselves to find the energy to help the person next to them.” And what I’ve never thought about as I’ve told that story, is those three examples of people who don’t get in are driven by individual performance or individual recognition, whereas the guys who make it in, they really are about each other. And it’s about reclaiming service. I think in the United States, we double down on rugged individualism a little too much. We over-indexed on rugged individualism, Marlboro man, etcetera. And our incentive structures in our businesses reflect that over-emphasizing of one value, rugged individualism. And I think we’ve over-indexed so far that we have forgotten the value of service, we’ve forgotten the value… And service requires, by its very nature, some sort of struggle or sacrifice, time, energy, all kinds of things. That I’m going to give something up so that you may thrive and that the three of us have tried in all of our work is like, “Oh, and by the way, that’s incredibly joyful and fulfilling for the person who serves, who gives.”

SS: What I’m finding so ironic is we’re out there talking and trying to describe teams, and that work is often applied, misapplied and re-appropriated into an individual.

BB: Yeah. The sole Navy SEAL team.


BB: Like you’re the whole team in one person.

SS: And all three of us have worked with military, they refer to themselves as…

BB: The teams.

SS: The teams.

BB: Yeah.

SS: That guy made it into ‘The Teams.’ How long have you been on ‘The Team?’ I’m just… Thank you for this.


BB: No, it’s a big insight. I have done some work with fighter pilots and I was reading an article from a Top Gun instructor in the real world, and they were asking him, “How close is Maverick?” And great movie, fun movie. Great movie. I’ve seen it four times. But he said, “It’s such a good film, but that’s not who we are, you would think we were really, really boring. We cannot strut around like that because when we strut individually, people die.” Adam, is this resonating with you, what Simon is saying about, they love these great high-performing team stories, but want to embody that in a single person?

AG: Yeah, I was thinking I’ve seen it so consistently in the military, but also with astronauts at NASA, that the easiest way to get yourself out of consideration for becoming an astronaut is to show that you can’t put the team’s interest first. And I think every astronaut I’ve ever met has shared a belief that the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.

BB: God, I just want to stop for a minute. Say that one more time. You don’t even have to say who it’s from, but just say the sentence.

AG: The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.

BB: It’s funny because we all do a lot of speaking and someone said, “What do you think the key is to good speaking?” If you see a speaker and it’s compelling and you listen and you watch, to me, it always comes down to two things. Are they in service? And are they being generous? And that’s it. And if you’re not there to be in service and to be generous, I can tell just because this is my gig, I can tell within the first 20 seconds if this is about you or if this is about me in the audience. And my checkout time is probably way faster than anyone else’s or maybe probably other people who do it for living. But the heart of it is to be in service. You remember where I live y’all, right? Texan. Literally death by rugged individualism here, people are prioritizing it so heavily that people die here. Because needing people, which is how we’re wired, is pathologized into weakness. This is a huge conversation. Okay, I want to end it here because I want to save my next big question. I cannot wait to say these two words to you and just I need you to voice your expression when I say them. People won’t be able to see you on the podcast. Simon, Adam, just love you guys, and so grateful for y’all being here and y’all stay tuned for part two.


BB: All right, I hope you are enjoying this conversation as much as I am enjoying it, just so much connection, I guess, and good thinking, and laughter and questioning. I don’t know. This is why I want to do the podcast it’s so… It’s fun, and I hope you enjoyed it. You can find all of Simon’s and Adam’s books wherever you like to buy books, we are especially fond of our independent bookstores, both Simon and Adam are on social media. So, you can go to and look at the episode page under the Dare to Lead podcast and you can find links to everything. I’m excited to bring you the next half of our conversation next week. Y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind. 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 Kevin McAlpine. And the music is by The Suffers.


© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, October 3). Brené with Adam Grant and Simon Sinek on What’s Happening at Work, Part 1 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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