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On this episode of Dare to Lead

Barrett and I have not been able to stop thinking — and talking — about an episode we did a few weeks ago with Donald Sull and Charlie Sull of CultureX: “How Toxic Work Cultures Are Driving the Great Resignation.” In that episode, we took a deep dive into an MIT Sloan Management Review article the Sulls had recently written, about what was driving the Great Resignation. In sharing their findings, they also gave us a sneak peek at a second article they had in the works, about the attributes of a toxic culture. That article has now been published, so in this episode, Barrett and I are digging into the research and talking about the five attributes of a toxic culture.

About the guests

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.

Barrett Guillen headshot

Barrett Guillen

Barrett Guillen is Chief of Staff for Brené Brown Education and Research Group. 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 every day 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

“Why Every Leader Needs to Worry About Toxic Culture” from MIT Sloan Management Review, by Donald Sull, Charlie Sull, William Cipolli, and Caio Brighenti

“Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation” from MIT Sloan Management Review, by Donald Sull, Charlie Sull, and Ben Zweig

“How Toxic Work Cultures Are Driving the Great Resignation” podcast episode on Dare to Lead


Brené Brown: Hey, everyone. It’s Brené Brown and this is Dare to Lead. Joining us today is…

Barrett Guillen: Barrett.


BB: Woot, woot!!  I thought we would have a follow-up conversation to the podcast that we dropped on March 7th. We had a conversation with Don and Charlie Sull of CultureX about the great resignation and how toxic culture was the single best predictor of attrition during the first six months of the Great Resignation. It was 10 times more powerful than how employees viewed their compensation in predicting employee turnover. It was just a data-packed episode. So good, right?

BG: It was so good.

BB: The research that Don and Charlie do together is incredible, and I found them in an MIT Sloan article.

BG: Yes.

BB: And so they gave us, during that podcast on March 7th, a sneak peek into another article they were getting ready to publish with MIT Sloan that actually came out on March 16th about, what are the attributes of a toxic culture? What exactly are we talking about? We had an interesting conversation about that, the three of us did, and I so greatly appreciate the sneak peek. So today, I thought you and I would dip into this new article, “Why Every Leader Needs to Worry About Toxic Culture,” by Don Sull, Charlie Sull, William… I’m going to go with Cipolli, and Caio Brighenti. I’m hoping this is right. I have some thoughts about the intersection of these findings with our work so I thought you and I could just have a conversation about it.

BG: Oh, I’m excited. I loved the first episode so much so I can’t wait.

BB: Okay. Before we go to our first commercial break, let me just say Atlas of the Heart, HBO Max series…

BG: It’s out.

BB: It’s out. There’s…

BG: It’s so good.

BB: Oh, my God, it’s like toothpaste. I’m so anxious about it being in the world that I’m trying to suck it back in, but there’s no sucking it back in.

BG: It’s beautiful. You don’t want to suck it back in.

BB: I do want to suck it back in.

BG: We need it.

BB: Okay, but I don’t care.


BB: All right, we will be back.

BG: This is how it’s going to go today.

BB: This is today.


BB: So let’s just jump in. So if you listened to the March 7th episode on Dare to Lead with Don and Charlie, you’ll know that these are researchers, huge data sets. I was not surprised at all to know that toxic culture was the single best predictor of attrition during the Great Resignation, that doesn’t surprise me at all. And I think I pushed them to define toxic culture and their first answer was like, “That’s coming out in an article in a couple of weeks.” I was like, “Just give us a sneak peek.” And so they did and they talked about the five attributes of a toxic culture and these guys are such… I say this in a loving way as a nerd. These guys are such data nerds and work with such huge data sets that I was saddened by what the five attributes of a toxic culture are. I was saddened, but I was also so relieved because so many leaders gaslight around these topics, like “That’s not a big deal. That doesn’t matter,” metrics, metrics, money, revenue, returns, metrics, metrics. And for so long we’ve been saying, “This matters. Culture matters.” So let’s look at these five attributes. Number one, disrespectful. Number two, non-inclusive. So for all the folks listening that are like, “DEIB work. Why are we doing equity, inclusion, belonging work? What’s… Why?” Huge, huge attributive toxic culture.

BB: Number three, unethical. Number four, cut-throat. Number five, abusive. So let’s start with number one, disrespectful, a lack of consideration, courtesy and dignity for others. How many…

BG: Just be human.

BB: Yeah. But how many workplaces does this describe that we go into?

BG: A lot of them and even pockets within larger…

BB: Yeah, this is the piece. I think this is the piece. It’s so funny because you’re like… When people who work within organizations say things like, “Oh, I’ve done a lot of work with Acme Brick,” I’m just using Acme Brick because the only one there. You me and the Road Runner.

BG: I was going to say Wile E.

BB: Wile E. Coyote, yeah. Is that the Road Runner? No. Oh, that’s the guy trying to get the Road Runner, right?

BG: Oh, yeah.

BB: Yeah. When we say, “Oh, yeah, I work with Acme Brick” people are like, “Wow.” No one works with Acme Brick. No one works with all of Microsoft. No one works with all of Shell. We go in and we work with a division, within a division, within a division with a group of people who believe in the work and want to change something. At least I don’t know anyone that works with the entirety of a company, unless it’s a really small business or something. But even when you’re working with the C-suite, you’re still not working with the company. You’re working with the leaders within. And so this phrase that you use, small pockets, let’s dig into that for a minute. So when we see small pockets of disrespectful behavior… I’m going to ask you, so we see if we align on the answer. What reasons do people give us for tolerating disrespectful behavior?

BG: Oh, I think it’s because that pocket or that vertical is highly successful. They make the company a lot of money. They… It’s almost like, “We know what’s happening over there, but we’re going to put you in the corner and we’re going to turn our eye on it because you’re really producing.” But it was really interesting, I loved how in the first episode Don said, “That does not take the leaders off the hook.”

BB: Right. I loved that too. Yeah, we see the pockets… And sometimes it’s not pockets, sometimes it’s people.

BG: Yes.

BB: A single person and their disrespect, their fundamental disrespect for other people reverberates through an entire culture.

BG: Okay, now let me ask you a question.

BB: Okay.

BG: Do you think… Because sometimes we go into companies and I am always with you usually, so I’m going to say we.

BB: Yeah, we’re there.

BG: Yeah. Sometimes it’s like, if it’s a person, that person has so much pride in working for that company and wants the company to succeed. So how often do you think this person is aware of their behavior, especially if they’re being swept aside and ignored because of their productivity and no one’s really giving them feedback or calling them on it? Are they aware?

BB: I think sometimes yes and sometimes no. It’s hard to say. We’ve worked with people; I think we’re both looking at each other thinking of specific people.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yes, yes.

BG: I was thinking the same.

BB: Who was completely unaware of their assholeness and how people feared them and the wake of hurt. It was like that cartoon, Mr. Magoo, where he walks ahead and things are collapsing behind them.

BG: And so much love and pride for the company they worked for.

BB: Yeah. And that’s not a singular story. I think it is a lack of awareness and I think it’s a lack of accountability and I think… I don’t know. But on the other hand, I can think of a lot of folks. We can list more probably.

BG: I know. I was thinking the same thing. Yeah, I was thinking the exact same thing.

BB: Who revel on their assholeness and don’t care and say, “Look at my numbers.” It’s an interesting… I don’t know. To me, letting someone who’s fundamentally disrespectful, lack of consideration… This is how the Sulls are defining. Lack of consideration, courtesy, indignity for others, to me, that is almost a covert variable with unethical. To let people, do that for money…

BG: Yeah, I agree. Do you think dismissed falls in that?

BB: Yeah, I do think disrespectful is dismissed. Let’s go to the next one, non-inclusive. So a lack of LGBTQ equity, disability, racial, age, gender, cronyism and nepotism and a general non-inclusive culture. Let me tell you that disrespectful and non-inclusive are basically tied for first. They’re so close in terms of the research. It’s a new day, folks.

BG: Totally.

BB: Yeah. So, if you think these initiatives are not worth the effort, you will not be running a business in the next five years. I’ve said that. How long have I been saying that?

BG: For as long as I’ve been going out on the road with you.

BB: I think we’ve been saying that for 10 years. If you’re not concerned about representation and equity and inclusion and you’re not willing to have hard conversations around those things, I think 10 years ago I said, “You will not be leading in five or 10 years.” I think that’s true. The next one is unethical behavior, dishonesty, lack of regulatory compliance, just unethical behavior. The fourth one’s cut-throat, backstabbing behavior and ruthless competition. And then the last one…

BG: And we’ve worked with some of those, for sure.

BB: Oh, my God. I just… Silicon Valley. And where that shit’s rewarded, that behavior is rewarded.

BG: Yeah, totally. So, I’ve had two careers, I guess, teaching and then here, and sometimes when we go into organizations, I’m not familiar with how it all works and I’m just blindsided. So I can’t believe that people can actually treat other people the way they treat them. Cut-throat is right up there.

BB: Yeah, but that’s…

BG: I’ll climb over you to get up top.

BB: Oh, yeah. But I think that’s a culture set by the leadership. That’s behavior that’s rewarded, otherwise it doesn’t exist. The first time someone is held accountable and there’s a punitive response to that kind of behavior, that goes away across the culture. If you have a cut-throat culture, you built a cut-throat culture, period. You reward, I’m thinking… There are segments of industry that I don’t work in anymore and it’s so funny that, I’ll share this, that people often call me in because they want the toughest person that does this work, that can talk with military, special forces, can talk with engineers and they’re like, “We want you because you’re… ” I don’t know. Maybe because I cuss a lot, I don’t know what. “You’re tough, you have data to back your stuff up, you don’t take any bullshit from the audience… ” And then they’re like, “Oh, you’re all about kindness.” I’m like, “Where in your thinking did kindness and strength become mutually exclusive? Where did tough and tender become mutually exclusive? When did generous and successful become mutually exclusive?” It goes back to Braving the Wilderness, like the quote we’ve been talking about all morning, “Strong back, soft front, wild heart.”

BG: Yeah. And clear is kind.

BB: Clear is kind, come on. And you know what, clear is kind, that means accountability is kind. The last one is abusive, bullying, harassment, hostility. Let me give you some numbers from the article. And I really encourage you… The thing I like about talking to folks who author the Sloan MIT articles is that you can buy these articles for five or six bucks or something and if you want to be able to copy them and share them with your team, it’s a couple more bucks. They’re accessible, they’re well-written, they’re organized, there’s great visuals. So, I really encourage you to get this article. So let me give you some perspective on how these rank, these five attributes of toxicity in toxic culture. Disrespectful, 0.66. Non-inclusive, 0.65. Unethical behavior, 0.62, which includes dishonesty at 0.59. Lack of regulatory compliance at 0.44. Cut-throat, 0.61 and then bullying, harassment and hostility at 0.50. So, one of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation with you is it was just a small comment in the March 7th episode with the Sulls, but I want to dig into it a little bit more with you. Disrespect, non-inclusivity, which means not feeling belonging. So, disrespect, not belonging, unethical, cut-throat and abusive. These are non-compartmentalizable experiences. Does that make sense?

BG: Yeah.

BB: Let me say that again. To be disrespected, to not feel a sense of belonging, to be subjected to unethical behavior, be involved in it involuntarily, to be in a cut-throat culture, and then to be in an abusive culture, even if the abuse is not pointed at you, are non-compartmentalizable experiences, meaning these are not stressful, shitty work experiences that we can compartmentalize during the working hours. These are experiences that fundamentally unravel our sense of safety, self-worth…

BG: And Charlie and Don talked so much about physical health.

BB: Yes, yeah. These are things that make us sick, emotionally sick, mentally sick but physically sick.

BG: Yes.

BB: And the fact that… Let’s go back to the first article, that the biggest driver of resignation, and during the Great Resignation, during COVID, was toxic culture and that’s defined as these five things. I mean, God, dang.

BG: I think where I find some hope in this article, both of them actually, and just the work that we’ve done, even in your MBA course that you just taught last semester.  I see a generation of people who are not taking this shit anymore.

BB: Oh God, that’s true.

BG: And I am so grateful and I’m hopeful that when my daughter, who’s 11, joins the workforce, maybe these folks are going to be her leaders who are not having it anymore, who are not willing to be physically sick in order to show up at a job at a place that they really want to work at and be not treated decently.

BB: Yeah.  I mean, I think it’s true. I think millennials… That’s why the whole idea of, oh, the millennials, oh, the trophies… First of all, when you say millennials were over-protected, over-parented and over-awarded with the trophies, there’s so much whiteness in that statement, because you’re talking about a very select group of kids that possibly had those experiences, but you’re not talking about a generation of kids, because while maybe middle class or affluent white kids were getting tons of trophies and over-parented and get off the hook easily at school, a whole bunch of other kids were underprotected by this world.

BG: Yes.

BB: And I can’t stand that rhetoric. I think the last time we looked, 65% of our workforce here in our organization, millennials, and Gen Z.

BG: Thank God.

BB: Yeah. Stop with that. Stop, just stop, y’all. Stop. First of all, I’m not… I don’t know that I’m a real fan of the generational stereotyping. There’s probably some… Just all stereotyping, maybe there’s some kernels of something interesting there, but millennials are great and then Gen Z… I just read an article, I think in Time magazine or somewhere, that talked about how afraid a lot of politicians are, especially older white politicians of Gen Z. And I’m like… The first thing I can think of is, “Afraid, you should be.”


BG: Yes, thank you.

BB: Yeah. If we did anything well as parents, we taught them to ask for what they need.

BG: Yes, and taught them to be aware of how they’re feeling and hopefully name… Give them language to talk about what they’re feeling. I wish that you had… And I do. I watch you go into organizations where this is… This is the battle, the old school folks who have been there a long time don’t want to talk about the soft skills and then you…

BB: It’s taught and…

BG: I know, I know, I know we don’t call them soft skills but… So, everyone listening, understand…

BB: Okay, go ahead. So, the old school rank and file…

BG: Yes.

BB: And leaders.

BG: And they don’t know the new workforce coming in. They’re like, “Yeah. No, thanks. That doesn’t seem like a good fit here. I’m not going to come in and be dismissed or disrespected or… I can work 60 hours; I don’t mind doing that.” But I’m so glad… How do we turn the tanker? How do we bridge the gap? And I see you talk about this in organizations because I feel like we talk about it in almost every organization we go in.

BB: It’s an issue across the board.

BG: So how do we turn the tanker because there is a gap. Not everyone… I think about the guests even that you have on Dare to Lead, it’s like a lot of them have been at the forefront or have always worked from a belief of, you treat people with respect and kindness and that’s how you make your company successful. A lot of them are like that but a lot of them aren’t.

BB: Yeah, God, you’re just hitting on so many great things. So, I think it’s one of the themes of the work we’ve done, and that division between the old guard and the new Gen Z millennials, that divide that we see is… The cause of that divide is a lot of different things, sometimes it’s digital transformation…

BG: Oh, yes.

BB: Is a big one. It’s around innovation and thinking new ways. And so, let’s dig into that a minute because this is an interesting… I remember one company that we went into, and they were doing some real innovation work and they hired a lot of young millennials, Gen Z folks, and the older folks were telling us like, “What is this bullshit, coming to work on your longboard with your pug in your backpack and immediately looking for the ping pong table. Shut up.” And I don’t think it’s lost on these folks that, especially in engineering, these kids are getting out of college making… They’re not kids, young adults, are getting out of college making six figures, because that’s supply and demand at this point around, coding and software and design and… And so one of the things that has been truly, I think, one of the biggest findings of the leadership research that we’re at, year 11 or 12 now, year 12, is the biggest driver of shame at work is what?

BG: Irrelevance.

BB: Irrelevance. The fear of being irrelevant. So, you have me and I’m a server person, right?

BG: Yeah, and we have a ping pong table upstairs. [chuckle]

BB: We do have a ping pong table upstairs, but that’s because all paddle and raquet sports are my thing.

BG: And we’re so… Thank God we have that because that’s how you wrote all your books, over the ping pong table.

BB: I do play a lot of ping pong. Let’s just say that we’re in a company and I’ve headed up some group of folks that work in the servers and I look over and you’re one of the new folks in your cloud, this is just an easy… It’s easy because we see this a lot of times, and it breaks down in different ways in different companies. And you’re getting a lot of attention, you new young cloud thing you. And you’re wearing shorts to work and you’re 25 and you’re getting a ton of money from the company and a ton of resources and attention and time.  Money, PS, that I’m making. Money that my team and I have… The revenue that my team and I have generated over the last 20 years. And I don’t quite… I get it, but this is what I’ve done my whole career here. And so, what ends up happening is… And I think it drives a lot of this toxic behavior that we’re talking about.

BG: Yeah.

BB: So, then what we see as a result of shame from the fear of irrelevance is we see people start to armor up, screw this, become very territorial. We hear a lot of, “That’s not the way we do things around here. Why do we need to change now? I’ve earned you a lot of money.” And so then, all of a sudden, the fear of irrelevance because of the armoring up becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, right?

BG: Yep.

BB: It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I was afraid I was irrelevant, I self-protect to the degree that I ensure my irrelevance, instead of saying open-hearted, open-minded, I’m curious about this, I love this, how are we going to work together?

BG: Yeah, and the amount of information and knowledge and organizational history that you can share with these young people is invaluable.

BB: We call this the golden unicorn because we only… We call this internally the golden unicorn because we only see these people very rarely. It’s not just a unicorn, but it’s like a gold… A 24-carat gold unicorn. That’s…

BG: I thought you were saying golden unicorn because of the age.


BB: No, but that’s true. That’s the reason why we started it.

BG: That’s so true.

BB: That’s the reason we started, is the golden unicorn, because that’s the person who has been in the company for, just like you said, long enough to have incredible, deep understanding of culture, history, where we’ve been, where we’re going, values, ethics.

BG: Yeah. What really screwed up in the server that maybe you can learn about in the cloud.

BB: Oh my God, yes, yes. So here’s the golden unicorn. So, I have all this information, all this history, all this experience, all this wisdom and I’m insatiably curious and excited about what’s next.

BG: Yes.

BB: That is… When I spot that person, normally it’s not news to the CEO or whoever, we’re usually working under a CEO. We usually are brought in by the C-suite people. It’s usually not news to the leadership when I say, “Wow, this person is important to the change that’s happening right now.”

BG: Automatically, you see in a room who is the heart of that company, and that person may not be at the C-suite table.

BB: Oh, yeah, often is not.

BG: Yes.

BB: Yes. They know that person is valuable, but normally we have to explain why because the person is straddling the tension of being around for a long time, but also excited and engaged about what’s new. And they’re like, “Oh God, that’s right.” And those are the bridge builders. Those are the people that if our strategy is over the next six years or five years, we’re going to move fully to cloud, that’s the person who may not know very much about cloud at all compared to some of the people coming in but will be running cloud in six years.

BG: God, yes.

BB: Do you know what I mean?

BG: Yeah.

BB: And the behaviors that we’re talking about here. They’re not disrespectful, they’re respectful. They’re not non-inclusive, they’re inclusive because they know. Even when we work in retail, you’ll see some of these golden unicorn people saying, “Yeah, we’re too white, we’re too male, we’re too… We don’t look like the people who we want to buy our stuff.

BG: Yeah. And the diversity of thought. The new…

BB: Everything, yes, yes.

BG: Yes, everything. Unethical, it’s like they have so much history at the company, they know…

BB: We’ve gotten in trouble here before.

BG: Yes.

BB: This is… And they’re talking about it, and you know what?

BG: Everyone’s talking about it.

BB: It’s so funny… They’re talking about it. So, let’s take us back, we’re in the South, we’re working with a really big company and a company that is paralyzed by perfectionism. And in a large room with 400 people, the C-suite’s there, there’s all kinds of levels of folks there. I ask someone to share a mistake that they had made and there’s literally quiet. Do you remember where we are?

BG: Yeah, I think that you said failure. I think where you said failure.

BB: Oh, share a failure. What did I just say? Mistake?

BG: Mistake.

BB: Oh no, failure, share a failure. Quiet.

BG: But you had that really long, uncomfortable wait people out thing, that you were just quiet longer. [chuckle]

BB: Yeah, I already got my check. I already got my check. I can stand here…

BG: It’s really uncomfortable when you’re like, “I got my check. Let’s see.”

BB: No, they need to know. I already got my check. I’m not…

BG: Yeah, totally.

BB: My money is not dependent on whether you’re forthcoming here or not.

BG: True.

BB: This is for y’all, not for me. So, it was the longest I’ve ever waited in my career.

BG: Yes.

BB: It was probably two solid minutes of just complete shifting in the chairs. Finally, one guy who’s in the C-suite, who is a total golden unicorn, says, “Let me share a recent failure.” And this failure that he shared was so big that the moment he stood up and said that, I would say, of the 400 people in the room, 300 of them covered their faces with their hands.

BG: Physically, you could see in the room.

BB: Yeah. They were like, “Holy shit. Is he going to share this?” It cost the company millions of dollars, hard trust stuff. It was a big ass… It was a big ass failure, right? And I just remember thinking, “Hmm, he’s the future of this company. He’s the future of this company.” And let me just note, the privilege of being a senior person, the privilege of being a man and the privilege of being a white guy. Because let me tell you, I don’t know, as a woman, especially I think there was one woman maybe, or maybe two women in the C-suite of that company, no people of color, they couldn’t have said that, because people are like, “Uh, huh, the woman made that mistake. The Black dude, he made that mistake.”

BG: No.

BB: “Aah, the Latina, of course.” So that goes back to why non-inclusive is such a big part of toxicity in a workplace.

BG: Yeah.


BB: Other thoughts?

BG: The other thought that I would have, I just wrote down a little note while we are talking is, I can’t remember a company that we’ve been in in the last, I guess four or five years, that hasn’t said in some way or another, what’s gotten us here will not get us to where we want to go.

BB: That’s the carpet we walk in on every time, right?

BG: Yeah. And so when you talk about this golden unicorn…

BB: That’s a person who believes that.

BG: I know. Why are they so hard to find?

BB: Oh, my God, because it goes back to daring versus armored leadership. It goes back to, I’m here to get it right, not here to be right. I’m a learner, not a knower. My value is in my curiosity and having really good questions, not having all the answers. It’s all about really fragile ego, which I get, we all have that sometimes.

BG: Totally.

BB: And it’s such a self… It’s the system is so jacked up because the more toxicity there is in the workplace, the more armor necessary just to show up every day. The more armor there is to show up every day, the worse things continue to get and the more people…

BG: Vicious cycle.

BB: It’s a vicious cycle instead of a virtuous cycle. Yeah, it’s just…

BG: Well, may I end maybe our podcast on saying thank you for creating such an amazing, wonderful culture and environment here at Brené Brown Education and Research Group. [chuckle]

BB: Yeah, I don’t do that by myself. And I’ll tell you what, for people leading, listening right now who are entrepreneurs, who are the CFOs or founders, one of the reasons… There are a lot of reasons, there’s 100 reasons why it’s a great culture here, I think. But one of the reasons it’s a great culture is when I get intense and scared and shitty, I’m absolutely hell accountable for my behavior by y’all. No one rides for free here, including me.

BG: That’s true, that’s true.

BB: Including me. And it’s not just the people that I work with on a daily basis who are you or Murdoch or people that are in the immediate leadership group, people who report to people who report to people who report to people…

BG: Yeah, that’s right.

BB: Will say, “I couldn’t share an idea in that meeting because your intensity was pretty overwhelming for me, Brené, I wanted to share that feedback with you.” They will.

BG: And it makes me think of something too. In the first episode, Don and Charlie are father and son, and Don said that after working with Charlie, his leadership had really changed because now he thinks about that somebody’s Charlie, that someone’s son or daughter, and is what I’m asking in the best interest of them or me? And I’ve thought about that so much since that first episode, and I’m thinking like… Because I think he was talking about his students specifically, but I just love that. Is that in the best interest of me or in the best interest of this organization as a whole?

BB: Yeah, so if you look in the back of Atlas of the Heart where we have that framework for meaningful connection, one of the first dividers is other-focused or self-focused, other protective or self-protective.

BG: It’s like… It’s why I feel like everyone in our company writes everything saying “we” and not “I”.

BB: Yeah. I write my books that way, every book. I’m on book seven, people are like, “Don’t you want to tell people you need to do this and you need to do that?” I’m like, “No, people don’t need to do jack shit.” We need to do this as a collective, and I need to do this, but I’m not telling people you need to do this. We need to think more about how our fragile egos, the methods we use to protect them hurt other people. Thanks for having this conversation with me.

BG: I love the research. It just really resonated with me, and it’s so interesting to see how their findings really show up when we’re in companies, I’m like, “Oh, that makes so much sense, I wouldn’t have been able to language it or talk about it.” So, thank you for languaging it like that.

BB: And their company, Don Sull and Charlie Sull, their company is called CultureX. And I think they do amazing data-driven empirically based research into the workforce, and so grateful that they share it with us in a way that’s really digestible and consumable, and also we can metabolize it and make changes.

BG: Yeah, and it’s so… And I love that they use so much from Glassdoor of just people’s real comments. I love that.

BB: You can find a link to the article on the episode page. So, all of the podcasts have episode pages on, so just go to this and you can find this article. We’ll also put a link to the original article, so you don’t have to go back to the March 7th, but I really highly recommend that you listen to the March 7th episode. These are just the conversations we should be having right now. It’s…

BG: God, and as we think about coming back in person, so many of us, it’s like it’s a great time to think about these things.

BB: How are we going to show up with each other? Thanks for joining me today, Barrett.

BG: Oh, my gosh, I love it. I love this research. So, thanks for having me.


BB: All right, y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind.

BG: I’m going to go watch Atlas of the Heart, the HBO Max series.

BB: I don’t know. Watch Atlas of the Heart and then tell me if you liked it and zip it if you don’t.


BB: Bye, y’all.

BG: Oh, don’t forget…

BB: What?

BG: Stay…

BB: I said stay awkward, brave, and kind, right? Did I?

BG: Okay, great. Bye.

BB: Stay super awkward, brave, and kind.

BG: Squared.

BB: Yeah. Bye. Do we say bye?

BG: I don’t know.


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 Andy Waits. And the music is by The Suffers.


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

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, April 4). Brené and Barrett on Why Every Leader Needs to Worry About Toxic Culture. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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