Brené Brown Says Truly Empathetic Leaders Prioritize This 1 Thing Every Single Day

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger

Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead, argues that there’s one thing that truly empathetic leaders prioritize every single day of the week — and that’s speaking the truth. 

She conducted a seven-year study on brave leadership, which reveals that most people (leaders included) shy away from the truth. Why? We don’t want to feel unkind. The irony: Not sharing the truth is unkind.

“Over the past several years, my team and I have learned something about clarity and the importance of hard conversations that has changed everything from the way we talk to each other to the way we negotiate with external partners,” she writes on her blog, which is adapted from her book, Dare to Lead. “It’s simple but transformative: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

She kicked off her interviews with senior leaders by asking one simple question: “What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?” she explains on the blog. The answer: “We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.”

That said, being brave isn’t necessarily easy. Of the barriers to courage, one came up time and time again: “Avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback.” But the research professor and TED Talker says that feeding others half-truths by sugarcoating or completely lying in an effort to make them feel better or to avoid uncomfortable confrontation isn’t the way to go. Holding your colleagues or the employees who report to you accountable for their actions without being clear about your expectations is unkind. And talking about others in the workplace instead of to them is also unkind.

Still, we tend to do this to protect ourselves from those awkward conversations. It’s what Brown calls “armored leadership” — leaders who tout themselves as knowers and people who are always right. That’s why she advocates for “daring leadership” — leaders who admit that they’re learners and who are getting it right.

Becoming a daring leader who speaks the truth can be boiled down to three simple steps:

1. Name the issue.

Calling out a mistake or poor behavior in the workplace can feel like a tough conversation. But allowing them to persist is not only enabling; it is also unkind. 

2. Prioritize learning curiosity skills.

Building a culture of trust makes rooms for open, honest, clear communication.

3. Acknowledge and reward great questions.

Understanding that there’s always room to learn and grow by asking questions and digging deeper turns an armored leader into a daring one.

“Armoring up and protecting our egos rarely leads to productive, kind, and respectful conversations,” Brown reiterates.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at by night.