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Behind the Scenes: Book Review: Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Community Womxn in Student Affairs
August 30, 2021

Behind the Scenes: Book Review: Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.             

Lauren Irwin

I, like many people in student affairs, have turned to Brené Brown’s work as a personal and professional resource. Her TED Talk and books were commonplace in my office and frequently discussed among professional and student staff, incorporated in our leadership certificates, and in shared in our campus workshops. As a former student affairs leadership educator, and current Ph.D. student examining leadership education programs in higher education, I was thrilled to learn that Brené Brown had written a leadership book. Dare to Lead (2018) came out just as I was beginning my Ph.D. In fact, I returned to graduate school to interrogate and disrupt how student leadership education efforts often evade systems of power – like racism and sexism. Thus, via coursework and research, I was examining leadership education, and higher education, from critical perspectives. I devoured Brown’s text – with thoughts, connections, and questions from Dugan’s (2017) Leadership Theory: Cultivating Critical Perspectives at the front of my mind. As I read Dare to Lead, I conversed with former colleagues, students, and friends. We discussed what this text meant for our programs, thinking, lives, and for leadership in higher education. Thus, this book review emerged from my own passion for leadership, past experiences as a leadership educator, and continued engagement with Brown’s work across my career.


Leadership has long been a topic of academic and public interest. Dr. Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead (2018)enters this conversation, bringing with it her work on shame, resilience, and vulnerability. Her messages about vulnerability and strategies for cultivating courage and practicing whole-hearted living resonate with many, as evidenced by her multiple New York Times bestselling books. In what follows, I summarize Dare to Lead before detailing the text's strengths, weaknesses, and contributions. In this text, Brown connects her existing work on vulnerability and courage to leadership practice but does so in a way that fails to interrogate power. Leadership is often positioned as a remedy for higher education’s ills; thus, it is important to consider how prescribed leadership solutions consider equity, inclusion, and systems of power like racism and sexism.   

Read more at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/26379112.2021.1948859