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Books for Good Review: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Welcome to SNC Books for Good, a book club learning adventure, where we will choose a different book on professional or organizational development, summarize key points, and weigh in on how it could be effective (or not!) for your organization.

Today we review our first book club pick: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown.  

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

If you at all know Brene Brown, you know that she references the quote above often.  It’s what inspired the title of Daring Greatly and what continues to inspire her to study shame and vulnerability.  She argues that true courage and living a wholehearted life can only be found through vulnerability.  In this book, she discusses how her research not only benefits the individual self, but also work places, organizations, and the family unit. 

This book is an inspiring and relatively quick, easy read that packs so much content in that any reader is bound to find something to relate to within its pages.  I could write a LOT about all the major points in the book, but we don’t have time for that! So, I’ve narrowed down the topics that both resonated for me personally, and those that I think will be important takeaways for organizations and work culture.  

Let’s first address some important Brene Brown definitions so that we have a common language and framework for discussion: 

Shame: the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.  A.K.A.: a fear of disconnection.  (Example: think of those tiny negative voices in your head that make you doubt yourself because you just aren’t “good enough” or “smart enough” or “_____ enough”)

Vulnerability: uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  It’s not a weakness and it’s not always comfortable.  It’s where courage and fear meet. (Example: saying “I love you” first or trying something at work and failing)

Wholehearted Living: engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. Cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and what gets left undone, I am enough.  It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.  For this example, I felt like we needed a visual, so I’m going to reference the most popular movie in our house right now: Moana.  In this clip, you see Moana, a young woman struggling to find her way out of the middle of the ocean in order to save her people. She is speaking with her Grandmother, now a spirit who guides her, and who helps her see her true capabilities, without fear, and with the courage to go out and fulfill her destiny, finding her identity and confidence in the process.  It’s a beautiful moment that captures Wholehearted Living and one that makes me cry every.time.

With these definitions in mind, I want to discuss Brene’s take on how to build a Shame Resilient Culture.  In our personal lives, shame resilience means connecting with our authentic selves and growing meaningful relationships with other people that lead to more wholehearted living.  Shame resilience is moving from shame to empathy, and of course, empathy requires some vulnerability. It also requires a level of self care because we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.  The question is HOW do you do this? According to Brene, it’s difficult. It’s a balance of taking into account ourselves and also taking into account others. It's a tightrope, and shame resilience is the balance bar.  However, she does have two methods to help manage: 1. Only pay attention to people who are also making themselves vulnerable to you, and 2. Expect that others have to love you for your strengths AND struggles.  

So in the workplace, what’s the most significant barrier to innovation and creativity?  The fear of introducing an idea and it being belittled, laughed at, or worse, ignored. Brene claims the medicine for this is building a shame resistant culture. 

What is a Shame Resilient Culture? 

“An organization where respect and dignity of individuals are held as the highest value. Empathy is a valued asset, accountability is an expectation rather than the exception, and the primal human need for belonging and connection is not used as leverage and social control.”  -Brown

How do We Build Shame Resilient Cultures? 

According to Brown, organizations need to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable (because shame and vulnerability aren’t always easy to talk about) by doing the following: 

  • Support leaders who are willing to facilitate honest and uncomfortable conversations about shame and cultivate shame-resilient cultures. For instance, make sure leaders are willing to share their own stories of shame resilience with their staff or mentees.  

  • Train and normalize discomfort for staff. This could mean training all leaders on the difference between shame and guilt, and teaching them how to recognize shame when it creeps into culture. 

  • Give feedback that’s productive. A daring greatly culture is a culture of honest, constructive, and engaged feedback. One in which you inventory strengths and use them to address challenges. For example, recommend staff  give feedback on presentations by leadership and/or each other.  Feedback must include what they thought were two strengths of the presentation and at least one opportunity for growth.  

Two Questions you can ask to see how Shame Resilient your culture is: 

  • Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need? 

  • What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake? 

In Shame Resilient Cultures, people are saying: 

I don't know

I need help

I'd like to give it a shot

It's important to me

I disagree - can we talk about it

It didn't work, but I learned a lot

Yes, I did it

Here's what I need

Here's how I feel 

I'd like some feedback

Can I get your take on this

What can I do better next time

Can you teach me how to do this

I played a part in that

I accept responsibility for that

I’m here for you

I want help

Let’s move on

I’m sorry

That means a lot to me

Thank you

I believe more cultures would benefit from leaning into vulnerability by incorporating things like productive feedback into the workplace.  As scary as it can be, the scarier thought is a culture without deep connection. Because without it, there is less room for trust, risk taking, initiative, and creativity.  

In conclusion, I thought this book was a wonderful read that even the harshest critic would get something out of.  What key insights did you get from Brene Brown’s book: Daring Greatly? In the spirit of the book, I’m open to your feedback! 


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