green plants in front of a yellow sun

I am not sure how to write this blog post. The topic is too big and mind-blowing to easily encapsulate in such a short form. But I’ll try. Plus, I’m afraid my language is going to get too corny and New Agey to be taken seriously. But please try to understand.

In all honesty, this blog itself might not have come into existence, had I not discovered an amazing author and university professor who not only conducts in-depth research into courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, but also shares her results with the public through delightful and accessible books.

I would even go so far as to say that, since I was falling into a terrifying rabbit hole during the years when I first encountered her, I might today be dwelling at the bottom of it, had I not had the breakthrough realizations she pointed me toward.

I have read many life-changing books over the years. But at the tiptop of my best-of list, when it comes to life-changing-ness, at least as regards my life personally, are the six incredible books published by Brené Brown between 2007 and 2018.

How to Be a Courageous Leader

Brown’s most recent book, Dare to Lead, came out last year and instantly hit #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.

Dare to Lead applies the results of her research over the past couple decades to the topic of leadership. Brown also conducted new research about leadership and details her findings in the book. While her other books were written for a general audience—with the exception of her first one, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t), which focuses on women—Dare to Lead approaches the concepts from the vantage point of leaders. In the context of this book, a leader is anyone who takes on a leadership role in any aspect of life. This includes not just executives, managers, military commanders, healing professionals, teachers, and the like, but also people who act (or seek to act!) as leaders amidst their families, friends, and communities.

For the most part, the book offers the same lessons Brown has been preaching for years—fascinating, practical, empirically based stuff—just packaged differently. As it turns out, the qualities needed to be what Brown calls a “wholehearted” person are the same as those needed to be an effective leader. This is another way of saying that wholeheartedness involves leadership, and leadership involves wholeheartedness.

This book is also different from Brown’s other books in that it seems to be intended as a companion piece to in-person trainings. This is just speculation on my part; it just reads that way. I could be wrong. But my understanding is that Brown, in addition to being a university professor, bestselling author, in-demand speaker at events around the world, and wife and mother, is also CEO of a company that conducts trainings for organizations and individuals. These events spread the word to helping professionals and other leaders about her research findings. The book seems designed to be read before or after an event. That being said, it can be understood by anyone, whether you have read all of Brown’s other books and heard her speak, or are encountering her for the first time.

The book does pack an awful lot of information into 300 pages. I do not know how it would feel to read it without having encountered her teachings in the past; would it be too much? Having read all of Brown’s other books, I sometimes thought while reading this one, “I’ve heard this before. Let’s move on!” At other times, I thought, “I’ve heard this before; but this is a great reminder, and I wish she would spend more time here, instead of rushing on to the next topic.”

The bottom line is, Dare to Lead is chock-full of research-based profundity as regards managing the complexities of living and, despite troubles and pitfalls, emerging, in the end, balanced and in control. But if you have not read anything by Brown, you may wish to begin at an earlier juncture in her oeuvre to experience the different topics in a more in-depth way.

In What Order Should I Read Brené Brown’s Books?

You can’t go wrong; any order will work. But if you haven’t read any Brené Brown, or have time to read only one or a few of her books, I recommend moving through them in this order:

  1. Daring Greatly (2012)
  2. Rising Strong (2015)
  3. The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)
  4. Braving the Wilderness (2017)
  5. Dare to Lead (2018)
  6. I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (2007)

Daring Greatly and Rising Strong go together as a set. The former shows how to dare to put yourself out there and be seen. Then, when you inevitably fall, the latter shows how to get back up again. If you read nothing else by Brown, read these two. They offer a solid, practical structure for navigating life courageously—like all of your favorite heroes throughout history have.

Read The Gifts of Imperfection next. Or, you may want to read this one first. This little book sets out ten guideposts for wholehearted living. It’s a short read, but every guidepost is potentially life-altering. You can go through each one and compare its research-based conclusions to the patterns that you and the people close to you typically engage in. Are they the same? You’re good. Different? Maybe a change would be advantageous (or maybe even, as in my case, several huge, dramatic changes).

Braving the Wilderness delves into the paradox that in order to truly fit in, you must stand alone. It also examines the increasing political polarity we have seen in the U.S. in the twenty-first century from the wholehearted perspective.

Dare to Lead puts everything together in the context of leadership.

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) was Brown’s first book, originally self-published as Women & Shame. Its style is more scholarly than the others’.

What Does Research Say About Courage?

Brown has been researching courage for decades—and the results are in! Her amazing news is that courage is not something you were either born with or permanently lack. No—courage is a skill you can practice and learn. Here’s what Brown says in the introduction to Dare to Lead about her research into courage:

“The most powerful part of this process for us was seeing a list of behaviors emerge that are not ‘hardwired.’ Everything . . . is teachable, observable, and measurable, whether you’re fourteen or forty. For the research participants who were initially convinced that courage is determined by genetic destiny, the interview process alone proved to be a catalyst for change. . . . Time can wear down our memories of tough lessons until what was once a difficult learning fades into ‘This is just who I am as a person.'”

This is wonderful to hear, because it means that we can all practice being braver. We can all move toward becoming more wholehearted. Each of us can be the person we always wanted to be; and we can be leaders, guiding others to be the people they always wanted to be.

What Brené Brown Did for Me

As I mentioned above, Brown’s books have been a catalyst for me, resulting in me making several major positive life changes. This stuff is no joke. I feel that I am a completely different person, in completely different circumstances, in comparison to just a few years ago. Some things I found the courage to do include not just starting this blog, but also organizing and hosting a silent book club, learning to be intentional about setting boundaries, and walking away from people who were not willing to respect my boundaries. And I’ve noticed that people reviewing Brown’s books on Amazon and elsewhere have had similar experiences.

I love how Brown ends her introduction to Dare to Lead:

“Basically, and perhaps ironically, we don’t have the courage for real talk about courage. But it’s time. And if you want to call these ‘soft skills’ after you’ve tried putting them into practice—go for it. I dare you. Until then, find a home for your armor, and I’ll see you in the arena.”


What have you found the courage to do lately?

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