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.
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.