Professional Book Review: Dare to Lead

In her book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (2018), Brené Brown sets out to answer this question: “What would it look like to combine courage, connection and meaning with the world of work?” (2018, xvii). This question could and perhaps should be asked by all of us. Brown’s research process includes conducting and analyzing interviews. When asking senior business leaders what they would change, if anything, about the ways people are leading today, they replied, “We need brave leaders and more courageous cultures” (2018, 6).

Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential” (2018, 4). I believe this is what school librarian leaders do as we develop our own knowledge and skills and use our toolkits to influence others to help all library stakeholders, including ourselves, to reach our potential, our capacity.

Four Skills Sets
According to Brown, there are four skill sets at the heart of daring leadership: rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. In her book she describes each of these in detail. Here is a snapshot:

Rumbling with Vulnerability: “Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the same time” (2018, 10). In a “rumble,” people show their vulnerability, risk what is important to them, in order to build, honor, and keep relationships open while solving problems (addressing the hard stuff). Learning to feel fear and refusing to let it armor or stop you helps you demonstrate courage and influence the courageous behaviors of others. Rumbling with vulnerability is taking the risk being truly “seen.”

As Brown notes, “developing a disciplined practice of rumbling with vulnerability gives leaders the strength and emotional stamina to dare greatly” (2018, 167). She shared a brief case study vignette of Dr. Sanée Bell, principal, Morton Ranch Junior High, Katy, Texas. Bell, a principal who is rumbling with vulnerability said this, “I changed the narrative of our school by growing power with people through distributive and collaborative leadership, and by empowering others to lead. Ultimately, being true to who I am as a person, respecting my journey, and owning my story have given me the opportunity to lead in a deeper, more meaningful way” (2018, 181). According to the school’s website, Ellen Barnes serves as the school librarian. I would love to talk with her about working and coleading with her principal.

Living into Our Values: I think the leading quote for this section is so very true. “Who we are is how we lead” (2018, 165). I believe that our core values in librarianship are “who we are” and are our source of strength and power. When we remain true to our values, we can respond to tough conversations and difficult situations.

As Brown writes, “living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hot important and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs” (2018, 186). She provides three steps toward this practice. First, we must be able to clearly articulate our values. Brown defines this as integrity. “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what is right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (2018, 189). Secondly, others must see our values evidence in our behavior. And thirdly, we must develop empathy for others and cheer them on while practicing self-compassion for our own steps and missteps toward consistently practicing what we preach.

Braving Trust: Brown cites Charles Feltman who authored The Thin Book of Trust. Feltman defines trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions” (quoted in Brown 2018, 222.) Trust is at the heart of relationships and must first be given to others in order for it to develop.

She provides seven categories in her “Braving Inventory,” behaviors that demonstrate trust: establishing boundaries, reliability, accountability, value (keeping confidences), integrity, nonjudgment, and generosity (225-226). Trusting requires courage and “building courage with a partner or in a team is more powerful than doing it alone” (Brown 2018, 227).

Learning to Rise
Resilience is essential for all of us today and is especially critical for decision-makers. “Grounded confidence is the messy process of learning and unlearning, practicing and failing, and surviving a few misses” (2018, 165). Leaders will inevitably make missteps. Owning and learning from mistakes is the hallmark of a true leader.

Standing Up for Our Values
For me, Brown’s work speaks to the need for all educators and school librarians, in particular, to stand up for our values. In our role as leaders, our library values will be put to the test if decisions are made that limit students’ access to the library or threaten their privacy or confidentiality; if books or other resources are challenged or banned, or students’ choices for reading materials are restricted in some other way. When we lead from the library as the center for literacy learning, our values will be tested.

Brown writes that daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things. “Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear, and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives. In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what is easy. Because that is integrity—choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (2018, 189).

There is abundant food for thought in Brené Brown’s work. I invite you to dive in and find the wisdom she has collected through her research and consulting practice. Read Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts or Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (2017). Search for her TED Talks or YouTube videos. You will find inspiration for our work.

Work Cited

Brown, Brené. 2018. Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Vermillion: London.

Side Note: In the month of February, I will write about Brown’s Dare to Lead section focused on empathy (pp. 118 – 163). For me, this was one of the most powerful components of the book. For school librarians, her work in this area relates directly to relationships with library stakeholders as well as to collection development.

Professional Book Review: The Age of Accelerations

For the month of January, I will be reviewing professional books. In December, 2019, I had the opportunity to read from my ever-tall stack of professional books. I am reviewing them this month in hopes that you may have read them and will make a comment, or you will be inspired to seek out these titles and read them (and then make a comment).

The Inspiration
I have long been a devotee of Thomas Friedman. I “found” Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, published in 2016, at just the right time and am so glad to have read it now when, like many of us, I need a bit of optimism. This New York Times bestseller earned additional recognition including the Wall Street Journal’s “10 Books to Read Now” (in 2016!) and one of Kirkus Reviews’ “Best Nonfiction Books of the Year.”

Friedman opens this book with the inspiration for the book’s title. While waiting for someone who was late in arriving for an appointment with him, Friedman had twenty minutes “to spare.” With nothing else on his calendar and not knowing when the person would actually arrive, he sat quietly with his thoughts. These moments of reflection were when he made connections among thoughts that had been on his mind… and the thrust of this book was born.

The Age of Accelerations
Friedman is spot on with his conclusion that in the “age of accelerations” very few, if any, of us can keep up with the rapid pace of change. In Friedman’s view, 2007, the year the iPhone was introduced, marked the beginning of this “age.” In the book, he elaborates on three accelerations that have, since then, stretched humankind beyond our limits:

  • Technology (Moore’s Law)
  • Globalization
  • Climate Change

When describing technology acceleration, Friedman makes the connection to Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing speeds double every two years. He also talks about the “Supernova,” better known to us as “the cloud.” And for better or worse, good or evil intent, Friedman notes the Supernova serves as amplifier of human behavior.

Global markets have changed the employment and economic landscape for people, businesses, and corporations around the globe. He cites many corporate thinkers in this book; this quote on the topic of globalization stood out to me: “Our institutions spend so much time working on how to optimize returns on financial capital. It is about time we started thinking more about how to optimize returns on human capital” (Auguste Copra, cited on page 238).

Mother Nature is Friedman’s personification for climate change and the loss of biodiversity. We have, very tragically, breached the 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere (See 350.org) and cannot ignore the impact of human activity on our shared home. Friedman notes that there will be over 9 billion people on the planet by 2050 (when my grandson will be just twenty-eight-years old). Of that 9 billion, a growing number will be climate refugees. “Globally, 1 in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, the report said, it would be the world’s twenty-fourth biggest” (report from United Nations Refugee Agency in 2016).

K-12 Education Connections
Clearly, technology is a driving force in education today. With all of the benefits of the Supernova at their disposal, K-12 students and educators have many opportunities to positively influence their own future and the future of the plant. Friedman notes that successful youth (and adults) are those who take advantage of all the free and inexpensive tools and flows coming out of the Supernova.

As we all know, the current and future workforce will require continuous learning. “Mother Nature is the opposite of dogmatic—she is constantly agile, heterodox, hybrid, entrepreneurial, and experimental in her thinking” (303). School librarians could use this phrase to describe and self-asses our work with students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

I appreciate that Friedman discussed “ownership cultures” in the context of the teaching profession. In ownership cultures, people must first and foremost own their work and learning. He included this quote from Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA exams: Successful schooling systems have a “high degree of professional autonomy for teachers… where teachers get to participate in shaping standards and curriculum, and have ample time for continuous professional development” (322). They are successful because they are engaged with the tools of their own craft, rather than serve like chefs whose only job is to reheat someone else’s cooking (322). Amen.

The Need to Pause, Build Empathy, and Re-connect
These three accelerations result in the imperative to exist (and thrive?) in a constant state of destabilization (35). This requires flexibility, adaptability, and necessitates reflection. While technology has made waiting obsolete, succeeding today requires patience—the patience to think and reflect. When you pause in the age of accelerations, you have the opportunity to reflect, rethink your assumptions, reimagine what is possible, reconnect with your most deeply held beliefs (Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, quoted on page 4).

Friedman discusses the need for members of our global society to build empathy—to be able to see the world through another person’s experience. He quotes a Talmudic staying: “What comes from the heart enters the heart.” (13) and notes that caring ignites caring; empathy ignites empathy (152). He also notes the need for human contact that includes face-to-face interaction.

He warns that: “In the age of accelerations, if a society doesn’t build floors under people, many will reach for a wall—no matter how self-defeating that would be” (153). Cultures must address people’s anxiety about the present and the future. We must offer one another a “home.”

I have always thought of libraries as “homes” for their communities—places where they have to take you in, places that are “family.” “It is so much easier to venture far—not just in distance but also in terms of your willingness to experiment, take risks, and reach out to the other—when you know you’re still tethered to a place called home, and to a real community” (452-453).

Work Cited

Friedman, Thomas L. 2016. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.