Identify & Implement: Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead Values


How to Identify & Implement Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead Values [+ 4 Skills for Effective Leadership]

We hear the word “leader” all the time — but what does it really mean to be one? In her 2018 book “Dare to Lead,” author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown, Ph.D., MSW, brings the question all the way back to core values, arguing that leadership isn’t something you do, but who you are. 

This post serves as an introduction to the USD Professional and Continuing Education course, Dare to Lead™. This course guides attendees through building actionable and measurable skill sets of effective leadership at work, empowering tomorrow’s leaders to lead (and live) authentically with increased courage and connection.  

But first, let’s dive into Brown’s recommendations for tapping into your leadership reserves. 

What Is a Leader?

What Are Values?

Brene Brown’s 100 Values Exercise

Benefits of the 100 Values Exercise

Challenges of the 100 Values Exercise

The 4 Components of Effective Leadership

What Is a Leader?

Here is Brown’s definition of a leader:

“[A]nyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”

She makes no mention of role, title, or seniority. This definition can pertain to anyone in an organization, as long as they dare to innovate and help others grow along the way. Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

Introducing Dare to Lead

Brown’s book bears the subtitle “Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” Whole hearts isn’t necessarily a quality that comes to mind when we think of organizational leadership, but Brown promotes vulnerability and empathy as key qualities of effective leaders. She defines vulnerability as “the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

“When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions,” she writes. “We don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it’s necessary to do good work.” Great leaders in popular culture don’t always display these qualities; it is often necessary for current or aspiring leaders to consciously build a skill set that includes these “softer” skills.

Brown has conducted extensive research on shame, vulnerability, empathy, courage and leadership, and she writes about workplace leadership through the lens of these topics. She asserts that, in the face of changing workplace expectations and technologies, the qualities that will carry us into the future are the ones that make us inherently human.

What Are Values?

Throughout “Dare to Lead,” Brown places major emphasis on personal values. Our values — the principles or beliefs we hold about ourselves and human behavior — often determine how we spend our time, money and energy. Many people are not aware of their core values until they are asked; even then, it can be difficult to put their finger on exactly why they believe certain things are important, or why they believe what they believe about themselves or others. 

To Brown, clarity of values is essential to being a great leader. “We can’t live into values we can’t name,” she writes, and challenges anyone who wishes to build their leadership skills to take the first step by naming their values. 

Brené Brown’s 100 Values Exercise

Of course, we can’t simply name our values and be done with them; we need to practice them. But if you have clarity around your own values and what they look like in practice, that sends a message to others that you are a sure-footed leader. 

In “Dare to Lead, Brown asks readers to list 100 values they use in their daily work. She provides a list of 100 examples, including things like accountability, achievement, balance, competence, excellence and family. She encourages the reader to fill in some that may not appear on her list. 

Brown instructs the reader to circle the 15 values that are most important to them. Then, she narrows it down to just two. These are the two values that are at the core of how you prefer to work. 

If it feels impossible to choose only two, you are not alone — you are being asked to distill your entire professional identity into two words! If this is the case, it may help to organize your values into themed groups. Which values may be a result of or contribution to others? Which feel like non-negotiables, and which feel like nice-to-haves?

Once you settle on your two core values, use each one in a sentence that describes how you approach work, in a way that would make sense to someone else. If you struggle with this part of the exercise, try asking yourself questions like:

  • “What are three of my frequent behaviors that demonstrate this value?”
  • “Do I ever behave in a way that doesn’t support this value? How does it feel?”
  • “What’s an example of a time when I was fully living into this value?”

Choosing two core values out of 100 does not mean that the rest become obsolete or inconsequential. Rather, the remaining 98 values can serve as a scaffold on which the primary two are built.

It can be insightful to revisit this exercise over time. Don’t be surprised though — some of your core values may change as you grow and experience new challenges. 

The 100 Values Exercise for Teams

This exercise is effective both for individuals and for teams. When working through it in teams, there can be a measure of vulnerability that feels uncomfortable to some — but Brown says vulnerability is the key to being an effective leader! 

Here is what a team exercise can look like: 

  1. All participants identify their two primary values independently. 
  2. Group members pair off to respond to each other’s values one-on-one.
  3. The group reconvenes and all participants share their core values with the room. 
  4. Group members give feedback and ask questions about each other’s values, helping each other identify how these values relate to work.

Trying this exercise in a group can open up participants to new perspectives. It’s crucial that group members do not impose their own values on each other, and recognize that the same value may have different interpretations. 

In an ideal professional setting, everyone’s values would align and compliment each other’s. If they don’t, it’s important that team members with differing values find ways to work together and respect each other’s perspectives. 

Benefits of the 100 Values Exercise

Besides challenging participants to lean into their own vulnerability, the 100 Values exercise can: 

  • Encourage self-awareness
  • Clarify professional priorities 
  • Lead to better mutual understanding 
  • Help participants identify leadership opportunities
  • Build support and trust between team members 
  • Highlight opportunities to grow (even if that’s into another job)
  • Help clarify misunderstandings and mitigate conflict 

To this last point, the 100 Values exercise can lend invaluable context to ours and others’ behaviors in the workplace. This can lead to increased empathy from team members if any of them makes an unpopular decision. If our colleagues understand the underlying reasons for some of our choices, they will be less likely to challenge them at face value. Having this insight can help overcome frustrations and even lead to productive conversations. 

Challenges of the 100 Values Exercise 

Of course, whenever we are asked to be vulnerable at work, discomfort is a natural response. An exercise this raw is not without its challenges: 

  • In a group setting, participants must be cognizant of imposing their own values onto others’. Objectivity is key to understanding where others are coming from.
  • Likewise, we must reserve judgment of others’ choices. If you find yourself puzzled or challenged by someone else’s assessment of themselves, ask clarifying questions instead of judging or disagreeing. 
  • Be aware that others may have different interpretations of our values or behavior. Be as clear as possible when explaining your definitions of your values, and be open to questions. 
  • Values may shift over time — and that is perfectly normal! No one is going to hold exactly the same set of values for their entire lives, let alone their entire professional career. Be generous with yourself and others if you sense a change in values. 
  • Some values may be ingrained from childhood. Whether or not they serve us in our professional lives, we must recognize the effect others have had on our values, and if those values feel relevant today. 
  • This can be a sensitive experience for some. Be compassionate toward others — and yourself — if they struggle to discuss their values in a group setting. 

Brown maintains that some level of discomfort is part of the point of this exercise. To be a great leader, we must be willing to do the hard work of letting our guard down and leaning into our humanness.   

The 4 Components of Effective Leadership 

So now that you’ve identified your core values, how do you put those values to work in a leadership role? Brown identifies four skills all leaders should strive to develop: 

Rumbling with vulnerability

In her hit TED Talk, Brown challenges leaders to “rumble” with their feelings of emotional exposure. A rumble is “a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability.” The key to a rumble is the group aspect — acknowledging our emotional rawness with others helps our walls come down and builds mutual empathy and confidence in our teammates. A coach can help leaders learn to moderate rumbles, especially when it comes to guiding the conversation away from discomfort and toward productivity.

Living into our values

The 100 Values exercise is about more than naming our values — it’s a challenge to practice them. Once you identify why or how your values affect your behavior, make sure every conscious choice can be traced back to a core value. Brown calls this “walking our talk,” and says it’s imperative that team members see their leaders intentionally modeling good workplace behavior. If we are clear and open about what’s important to us, we can expect less pushback and more productive conversations around our decisions in the workplace. 

Braving trust 

Coworkers can’t be vulnerable if they don’t trust each other. Mutual trust often starts at the leadership level, which means leaders need to intentionally make their teams feel comfortable and heard. According to Brown, team members need to see their leaders demonstrating the following seven qualities in order to trust them: boundaries, reliability, accountability, confidentiality (she calls this “vault”), integrity, nonjudgement and generosity. 

Learning to rise

The skill of resilience is critical for effective leadership. Learning to rise above challenges and lead teams through tough moments builds trust and support. Brown breaks resiliency into three stages: 

  1. The Reckoning: Separate emotion from fact. Setbacks are frustrating, but prioritizing finding a logical solution over our emotional reaction demonstrates that our teams are in capable hands. 
  1. The Rumble: Have an honest discussion with yourself about fact versus feeling, and identify which of your values you can lean on to find a solution. 
  1. The Revolution: Take charge of the next part of your story. Make conscious choices to lean into vulnerability and live out your values as you work to overcome the challenge at hand. 

Lastly, accept that you will never become the perfect leader — no one is! The goal of the exercises in “Dare to Leadis to become a better leader, improving and strengthening the skills you already have while acknowledging that there is always room to grow. Stay humble and create an environment where all team members can fail productively and trust each other for support. 

The USD Dare To Lead™ course is a chance for both seasoned and aspiring leaders to practice being vulnerable and build their leadership skill set in a structured, supportive environment. The course guides participants through: 

  • Assessing their personal inventory of skill sets, strengths and weaknesses
  • Measuring how they are showing up as a leader
  • Discovering how to level up and make a greater impact

Ready to become a stronger leader? There’s no time like the present!

Dare to Lead™ | University of San Diego Professional & Continuing Ed

For individuals who are ready to embrace brave leadership, shed their armor and show up with whole hearts in their work and life.


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