DR. BRENÉ BROWN is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Brené’s 2010 TEDxHouston Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” has been viewed more than 36 million times and is one of the top five most viewed TED Talks in the world. She has spent the past 14 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brené is also the New York Times best-selling author of Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
I give out a lot of books. My go-to list includes The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner (so helpful for couples in that “I’m screaming and he’s/she’s shutting down” cycle) and her new book, Why Won’t You Apologize? (Turns out that most of us are pretty terrible apologizers—this really changed me.) For new parents, I love the Positive Discipline series by Jane Nelsen (empowering for kids and parents) and the Touchpoints series by T. Berry Brazelton (you really can’t guide your children if you don’t understand what’s happening developmentally). I buy everyone on my team books a few times a year. Our next reads are Stretch by Scott Sonenshein and Lead Yourself First by Kethledge and Erwin.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
“Courage over comfort.” Just a simple reminder that there’s nothing comfortable about being courageous. Everyone wants to be brave, but no one wants to be vulnerable.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Easy. My ten-foot iPhone charger from Native Union and my Fierce lip balm from Tata Harper.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Problem identification is always a sound investment of time, money, and energy. Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” It feels uncomfortable to spend time and resources trying to figure out exactly what the problem is—we want to jump to fixing way too fast. Most of us are plagued with action bias and really struggle to stay in problem identification. I’ve found that getting clear about what’s wrong and why it’s a problem is the best investment you can make at home or work.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Sleep. Diet, exercise, and work ethic don’t hold a candle to how sleep can revolutionize the way you live, love, parent, and lead.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? What questions do you ask yourself?
Always these questions:
- Healthy food?
- Am I resentful because I’m not setting or holding a boundary?
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
One of my biggest mistakes was not understanding or owning how involved I wanted and needed to be in my businesses. I convinced myself early on that I could “download ideas” and our kick-ass teams would execute against those ideas while I was off doing other things. I wanted to believe it because my time is so scarce. I research, write, speak, facilitate leadership programs, lead three businesses, and maintain nonnegotiable boundaries around my family time. It didn’t work. I’ve got the best people in the world—they’re committed, creative, and smart. But downloading ideas is not leading. The real work is the constant iteration, incorporating consumer feedback, troubleshooting, figuring out when to push and when to bail, and helping everyone reset after a setback and learn. I want and need to be involved in all of that. I want to rumble on how we pack a box and the note that comes with it. I want to see the photos we’re going to use on the website—do they have emotional resonance and convey connection? Not being there created unnecessary frustration for all of us and, ironically, led to the worst kind of micromanaging on my part. Now I spend a lot of time with teams at the start of a project defining what “done” looks like, and I’m involved in their standups once a week. Team leads have access to me on Slack. Our roundup team has also worked to make sure that there’s solid alignment between responsibility and authority for everyone. You can feel the shift. We’re becoming more productive and effective than we’ve ever been and we’re having fun. Key learning: Magical thinking is incredibly dangerous and will cost you more time, money, and energy than digging in ever will.