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  • Rebecca Anderson

Blog: Books for Sales Managers - 'Dare to Lead' by Brené Brown

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

(Written for LinkedIn Sales)

If you spend any time scrolling through your LinkedIn feed, you'll undoubtedly see countless posts extolling the virtues of amazing leaders and recounting the hazards of poor leadership. This drives to the understatement of the year: Good leadership is vital to employee retention, and realization of potential. 

So what does it take to be a daring and inspirational leader? A superhero mask? A penchant for skydiving? Not quite. According to Brené Brown — best-selling author of Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts — the key is courageous leadership rooted in vulnerability. 

"One of the most important findings of my career is that daring leadership is a collection of four skill sets that are 100 percent teachable, observable, and measurable. It's learning and unlearning that requires brave work, tough conversations, and showing up with your whole heart," Brené writes. "Easy? No. Because choosing courage over comfort is not always our default. Worth it? Always. We want to be brave with our lives and our work. It's why we're here."

In this post, we'll highlight some ways that sales leaders can courageously lead their teams to new levels of engagement, happiness, and productivity. 

Why Vulnerability Matters for B2B Sales Leaders 

"Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability," Brené writes. 

But note that vulnerability is not the same as disclosure. To be vulnerable, you don't need to overshare about your personal life, cry every time your team makes quota, or put your company at risk by leaking confidential information. 

According to Brené, vulnerability is simply "the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." 

Risk? Uncertainty? Heightened emotions? Doesn't this describe how all sales pros feel at quarter-end, when an account is at risk, or when the decision is in the hands of a buying committee? 

The point is: Everyone feels vulnerable. It's uncomfortable but, according to Brené, it's necessary. Instead of trying to minimize discomfort at all costs, she says that leaders need to lean in. 

You can't build trust without risking vulnerability. "Trust is the stacking and laying of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time." 

Building a Courage Culture

"Courage is contagious," Brené writes. So, the first step toward building a culture of courage is to exhibit daring leadership. She says that courage is a collection of four teachable skills:

  1. Rumbling with vulnerability. In other words, don't avoid the tough conversations. "Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things," Brené writes. The cultural norm of being nice and polite, at all costs, can be damaging to morale. If the company is in trouble, if your employee is in trouble, have uncomfortable conversations. Walking on eggshells is not a good way to live. 

  2. Braving trust. Brené urges leaders to ditch the emotional armor that keeps them from making real connections. Is there a risk? Sure. Brené calls out the meanspirited people in the "cheap seats" who hurl advice at those who dare to lead with vulnerability and courage. Her advice? "Just step over the comments and keep daring, always remembering that armor is too heavy a price to pay to engage with cheap-seat feedback."

  3. Living into our values. For sales leaders, this means making strong connections with your team. Know and embrace the unique value provided by each person. Be open and forthright, create opportunities to allow the quieter members of your team to speak up, and applaud people when they bring up tough topics. 

  4. Learning to rise. There is so much wrapped into this. When someone kicks you down, get up and move on. Also, listen to your team’s feedback and be willing to grow. A good leader recognizes their weakness. A daring leader takes steps to uncover the why and how it's affecting others. And then, they figure out how to make the negative impacts go away. 

Use Empathy to Help Your Team Break Free of Non-Productive Emotions

The feeling of shame is universal — it may be brought on by our own feelings of inadequacies, but often it’s a negative work culture. In many companies, there exists what Brené calls a "shame culture" fueled by blaming, gossiping, favoritism, name-calling, harassment, and public humiliation about job performance. 

For a salesperson, shame might rear its ugly head when they need to admit that their "sure thing" fell through, they don't meet a quota, or they failed to meet your expectations. 

And, while you always want to spur your team to reach higher, take time to reframe the conversation and remember that people can't read your mind. Brené has a great mantra: "Clear is kind, unclear is unkind." 

Instead of shame and blame, sales managers should inspire accountability and learning. "Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behaviors." Brené writes.

According to Brené, there is a powerful antidote to non-productive feelings such as shame: Empathy. But she's careful to draw a clear distinction between empathy and sympathy. "Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection," she writes. 

According to Brené, the five empathy skills are:

  1. To see the world as others see it, or perspective-taking

  2. To be nonjudgmental 

  3. To understand another person's feelings 

  4. To communicate your understanding of that person's feelings 

  5. Mindfulness

Like so much of what Brené writes about, empathy is a vulnerable choice. It requires listening, and giving employees space to have their emotions—even if you don't want to hear them. It also means not always jumping in with a magical solution. If employees are going through a rough patch, sometimes they just want to know they are heard. "Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection,” notes Brené. 

Operationalizing Your Company's Values

Do you know your company's core values? Most companies have them, but it is rare that they serve a purpose beyond a grand proclamation on the "About Us" page of the corporate website. In fact, Brené notes that just 10% of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors.  

If your values don't provide a true north for the organization, what purpose do they serve? Brené writes that if organizational values are not used for employee accountability and alignment, "it is better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS."   

By defining and operationalizing values, a company can ensure a cultural fit during hiring, set standards for behavior, and drive productive decision-making. So how do we get there?

The easy answer: With Brené's help. On her website, Brené offers a step-by-step process that leaders can use to define and operationalize values for your team. There's also a handy reference list of desired behaviors and a copy of the operational values from the Brené Brown Education And Research Group. 

If you want to learn more about daring to lead, we dare you to read this great new book. If you think you’re already there, you can take the daring leadership assessment on Brené's website and see how you fare.

For more essential insights on sales management success in 2020 and beyond, subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Blog.

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