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NEW Book Review! Dare to Lead

Book Review: Dare to Lead

Diana Singer, PhD, RN, CCRN, CNE, C-TAGME | AIAMC Board Member and Programming Committee Member


Who we are is how we lead” – Brené Brown, Dare to Lead (2018)

When I reflect on all the books, articles, podcasts, and conversations I’ve poured over on the topic of leading, I unequivocally come back to Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead.  It is the single most impactful piece that has changed how I work and lead. More importantly, it has changed how I live.

I have been leading leadership book clubs for almost seven years now, yet this is the one and only book that my team has chosen to repeat. And so, as I sat down to write this review, I realized I couldn’t do it alone. When we first “book clubbed” (yes, I made that a verb) Dare to Lead, it was in 2019, pre-pandemic, without a clue what was coming and how our values, skills, and resilience would be challenged. Re-reading this spring (2024), week after week we simultaneously discuss how many topics have become ingrained in our culture and yet we also have picked up on pearls that didn’t necessarily resonate before. Ever the servant leader, I asked each of my four leaders to pick their biggest takeaway that has impacted how they live and lead; I will share each of theirs and end by sharing mine. Call it a “top 5,” if you will. Everyone loves a list, right?

#1: Vulnerability: “Strong back, soft front, wild hearts”

Vulnerability is core to Brené’s work; she emphasizes how uncomfortable it can feel to be vulnerable, especially when you are in a position of leadership. Naming feelings and leaning into our vulnerable selves allows us to lead from a place of authenticity. Likewise, acknowledging that it’s impossible to delineate personal from professional values provides a needed paradigm shift. No longer can you “leave things at the door” do you job; we must bring our whole selves to work each day.

In Dare to Lead, Brené describes 16 facets of “Daring Leadership,” which each resonated differently to us. One that particularly stands out is practicing integration, where all pieces of ourselves come together to create a “strong back, soft front, and wild heart” where “that strong back is grounded confidence and boundaries. The soft front is staying vulnerable and curious. The mark of a wild heart is living out these paradoxes in our lives and not giving into the either/or BS that reduces us. It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, and, above all else, being both fierce and kind.” Finding this part of ourselves is a challenge but a worthy one, for it will change how you view the world. At least, I can say with certainty it has for me.

#2: Armored Leadership vs. Daring Leadership

In opposition the 16 facets of “Daring Leadership” are those of “Armored Leadership” in which we put on our proverbial armor to protect ourselves and our hearts. Of the entire Dare to Lead workbook, this exercise of ranking armored versus daring leadership behaviors and closely examining the dichotomies between the two has led to some of our richest conversations and commitments to ourselves, each other, and our teams, in 2019 and 2024. It forces questions like: how do we show up? How do we want to show up? What barriers do we put up? Some of my team’s biggest takeaways include taking the time to ask questions; be in the moment with whomever you are speaking; cutting out the noise and prioritizing healthier habits over numbing; and ending meetings with gratitude instead of hiding behind cynicism, to name a few.

#3: Empathy is a Skill

I feel we have reached an era where no longer are “soft skills” considered, well, soft. In fact, they are now recognized as critical to leadership success. Brené provides the most eloquent and tactical definition of empathy I have come across in this short video. Once we realize that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care,” our mindset shifts and we can devote time to cultivating a culture of empathy and recognize that feelings are human, universal, and should not be feared. Likewise, empathy is a skill that can and should be learned. Dare to Lead provides concrete ways to start this growth. It includes an extraordinary list of “empathy misses” and how to reframe your conversations to better lead from the heart and meet people where they are.

#4: Grounded Confidence = Rumble Skills + Curiosity + Practice

Throughout Dare to Lead, Brené introduces a number of specific terms and provides contextualized definitions. One of those, “rumbling” entered our team vernacular via our 2019 book club and has stayed at the forefront of our culture. According to Brené:, “a rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard. More than anything else, when someone says ‘let’s rumble,’ it cues me to show up with an open heart and mind so we can serve the work and each other, not or egos.”

Eleven “rumble starters” are provided within the book; these key phrases can be utilized to facilitate hard conversations. One of my personal favorites is “the story I make up…” Undoubtedly, we always find ways to “fill in the blanks” when we only know some of the facts. This “rumble starter” allows you to reframe how you have pieced together what you know and address a challenge head-on by sharing from your own perspective without placing blame. Another favorite amongst our team is “help me understand.” I have watched these three words diffuse a tense conversation more times than I can count. They take off pressure, promote empathy, and allow the other person to share their views. Conflict management is a critical component of leadership, and this book has helped me learn to “rumble” with empathy, integrity, and confidence.

#5: Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind

Perhaps one of the simplest, and yet my favorite, takeaways from Dare to Lead is the key phrase: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” It has become a mantra of sorts, serving as a reminder that even if it feels hard, setting clear, objective expectations is critical. Whether small projects or large, proactive clear direction prevents frustration, disappoint, and resentment in the short and long term. These six words have changed how I approach conversations both professionally and personally and are ingrained in my mind and in my heart. 

In Summary:

Organized in a methodical, pragmatic manner, Dare to Lead provides insightful takeaways coupled by memorable anecdotes. The Dare to Lead Hub provides additional content, including a workbook, videos, and other resources, making this more than a book, but a cultural revolution. I encourage you to read for yourself, share with your team, and always remember: “daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things” (Brené Brown, 2018).

Brief Bio:

Diana Singer, PhD, RN, CCRN, CNE, C-TAGME serves as the Executive Director for Academic Affairs at JPS Health Network in Fort Worth, Texas, overseeing all educational endeavors including GME, CME, UME, and nursing and allied health. She graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2010 and worked as a critical care nurse in JPS’ Level 1 Trauma Center upon graduation. From there, she managed the Family Medicine Residency at JPS, the largest in the country, for four years before moving into her current institutional role in 2016. Dr. Singer earned her MSN in Nursing Education from TCU in 2018 and PhD in Health Sciences from TCU in 2023. Her dissertation work focused on fostering belongingness in the clinical learning environment. With a passion for interprofessional education and practice, Dr. Singer also serves as Director for the Center for Collaborative Practice at the Health Innovation Institute at TCU. She enjoys traveling, cooking, being active, and making memories with her close family and friends.