10 Brené Brown Leadership Quotes + Context and Explanation

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Is courage a trait or a skill? Should a leader ever say, “I don’t know”? What’s a sure sign that you’re not reaching your potential as a leader?

Brené Brown—a popular public speaker, bestselling author, and professional social worker—longs to see people lead wholeheartedly. She discusses how leaders can practice courage, build trust, and model vulnerability.

Continue reading for several Brené Brown leadership quotes that capture the essence of her message.

Brené Brown Leadership Quotes

We’ve organized 10 Brené Brown leadership quotes into three categories: courage, trust, and vulnerability. We’ve added some context and explanation to help you understand where Brown is coming from.

Leadership and Courage

“Just under half of the leaders we interviewed initially talked about courage as a personality trait, not a skill. They typically approached the question about specific skills with a ‘Well, you either have it or you don’t’ answer.”

“The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear.”

“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 behavior. What this means is that we must find the courage to get curious and possibly surface emotions and emotional experiences that people can’t articulate or that might be happening outside their awareness. If we find ourselves addressing the same problematic behaviors over and over, we may need to dig deeper to the thinking and feeling driving those behaviors.”

“Acknowledge and reward great questions and instances of ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to find out’ as daring leadership behaviors. The big shift here is from wanting to ‘be right’ to wanting to ‘get it right.’”

These Brené Brown leadership quotes are from Dare to Lead. In this book, she argues that a leader must practice and hone four skills to lead courageously—facing vulnerability, choosing and practicing values, building trust, and developing failure resilience. She contends that the effective use of these skills can help your team overcome difficult situations and encourage creativity and innovation.

Brown contends that, when faced with vulnerable moments or tough decisions, brave leaders depend on “grounded confidence” for the courage to face their vulnerability instead of hiding behind defensive behaviors. Brown defines “grounded confidence” as confidence rooted in strong values, self-awareness, and curiosity; it’s based on a proven ability to face your vulnerability rather than a contention that you probably could.

Brown adds that when receiving feedback, focusing on your values can help you channel your emotions productively, toward insight and learning, rather than defensively. You can do this by entering the conversation with a value-supporting mantra or behavior, such as “Paying attention will make me a better teammate” (teamwork), or “I will ask questions and fully understand” (curiosity). 

Leadership and Trust

“Going back to that filter of susceptibility to shame—when it comes to work, we’re afraid of being judged for a lack of knowledge or lack of understanding. We hate asking for help. But that’s where it gets wild. We asked a thousand leaders to list marble earning behaviors—what do your team members do that earns your trust? The most common answer: asking for help. When it comes to people who do not habitually ask for help, the leaders we polled explained that they would not delegate important work to them because the leaders did not trust that they would raise their hands and ask for help. Mind. Blown.”

“There’s a terrible pattern in organizations in which leaders turn to their teams, or their investors, or their board, and say ‘You need to trust me.’ Typically, that happens in a moment of crisis, when it is far too late. Trust is the stacking of small moments over time, something that cannot be summoned with a command.”

These Brené Brown leadership quotes are also from Dare to Lead. She contends that one skill of courageous leadership is building trust and connection. Brown explains that trust is essential to organizations: It allows people to feel comfortable trying new ideas and relying on others. However, she argues that we often don’t trust our colleagues—but we don’t talk about this to avoid offending our colleagues by calling them untrustworthy.

Trust is the foundation of healthy vulnerability. It’s a requirement for vulnerability and also requires vulnerability in order to be built. Building trust is a gradual, deliberate process. In every moment, you have the opportunity to strengthen or erode it. When you take the opportunity to show up in your relationships, you build trust.

The greatest threat to trust is disengagement. When you stop caring, stop connecting, or stop taking opportunities to show up, trust dissipates. 

Leadership and Vulnerability

“Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability. Once we start to build vulnerability skills, we can start to develop the other skill sets.”

“When leaders don’t have the skills to lean into vulnerability, they’re not able to successfully hold the tension of the paradoxes that are inherent in entrepreneurship.”

“If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.”

“The big challenge for leaders is getting our heads and hearts around the fact that we need to cultivate the courage to be uncomfortable and to teach the people around us how to accept discomfort as a part of growth.”

These Brené Brown leadership quotes are from Dare to Lead and Daring Greatly. She explains that vulnerability isn’t something that feels safe to lead with—most would prefer to keep it hidden (though it’s equally common to admire when others lead with it). We are afraid of what makes us feel most vulnerable, and we are especially afraid of allowing others to see those areas. If you don’t trust that you’re worthy of being seen as you are, your fear can cause you to live with protective armor to a point where, not only do your loved ones not know who you truly are, but you might not even know who you truly are.

Brown says that discomfort is normal and necessary for growth. If you resist the discomfort, there is no impetus for change. If you embrace it, you can use the discomfort to identify the path from where you are, to where you want to be. Brown recommends “leaning in” to discomfort. “Leaning in” means practicing being present with, or even moving towards, emotions that cause discomfort rather than avoiding them. This isn’t to say you should push yourself to remain in toxic environments, but leaning in is a great tool for working with challenging but potentially transformative emotions like anxiety or frustration.

Wrapping Up

We hope you’ve been encouraged and inspired by these Brené Brown leadership quotes and urge you to check out her books to learn much more. If you have a favorite quote that we didn’t include, let us know in the comments below.

10 Brené Brown Leadership Quotes + Context and Explanation

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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