Leadership: Courage is Contagious – Lessons from Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead


Leadership isn’t a position

Maybe you aren’t the ultimate decision-maker. Perhaps you don’t manage a team of people. Or, maybe you don’t have exposure to leadership or influence over firm management.

Does that mean you can’t move the needle?

Absolutely not. You don’t have to be in “leadership” to be a leader.

The energy and attitude that each of us brings to work every day has an impact – whether you know it or not. In her book Dare to Lead, author Brené Brown shares many ideas on how to be a better leader. It is worth investing the time to reflect on how Brown’s ideas could apply to you. How could you use Brown’s leadership research and findings to be a better leader? You don’t need a company or a firm’s entire leadership team to read the book and implement the ideas to move the needle – you alone can make a difference.

How do you react to others? Do you take risks that put you in a position to be uncertain and vulnerable? Are you courageous enough to lead?

Brown shares this quote from Teddy Roosevelt, which is the inspiration for this book and an illustration of what it truly means to be a great leader.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

Get in the Ring

So, what you can bring to the workplace is the courage to get in the ring. Bring your ideas. Speak up. Sometimes we think our ideas are too obvious to share and we stay quiet. Say it. Do not hold back. Let your voice be heard while also listening to others. Ask questions of others you work with. Understand where they are coming from and open the door for them to be vulnerable by sharing their perspectives in a way that is meaningful. 

By opening the lines of communication in a productive way, you can better understand and address any growing frustrations or resentments within your team. Then, you can manage the underlying and possibly unrelated issues before they negatively affect a project or initiative. Give yourself and your team the opportunity to reality-check conspiracy theories and confabulations – the things we dream up in the absence of information or when we are not being inquisitive and openly communicating.

Be Ready to “Rumble”, and Lead the Conversation

Brown’s book refers to “rumble language.” Rumble language isn’t brawling in the hallways of your office. It’s having the courage to lead a real conversation instead of making assumptions, even when it’s difficult. This is something each one of us can do in several interactions a day. Rumbling allows us to serve the work and each other – and NOT our egos.

Brown’s book provides some “rumble language” for your toolkit. And, this is language you can keep in your back pocket when going through your daily interactions in order to open the lines of communication in a meaningful way. Some examples include:         

  • The story I make up is…
    “Hey, Bob. Based on your short response to my project report yesterday, I am telling myself you think I missed the mark. Is that true?”
  • I’m curious about…
    “I’m curious about the data you used to get to that conclusion.”
  • Tell me more…“Tell me more about your prior experience with this type of project and how it worked for you.”
  • That’s not my experience…“That’s not my experience with Joan. When I’ve worked with her, she has followed up in a timely manner. Perhaps there were some other circumstances we were not aware of.”
  • I’m wondering…“I’m wondering how you came to the decision to do xyz.”
  • Help me understand…Help me understand what your goals are with this project/initiative.”
  • Walk me through that…Walk me through the steps you have identified for completion of this project.”
  • What’s your passion around this?You seem really set on this route. Can you tell me what your passion is about this?”
  • Tell me why this doesn’t work/fit for you.
    Can you explain to me why this doesn’t work for you?”

Have the Tough Conversations

Can it feel awkward to have these “rumble” conversations? Yes – at first. But consider this: the ability to be a daring leader is defined by our capacity for vulnerability. Because we must be open to being vulnerable, wholehearted, curious and interested in our team in order to build our skills as leaders. By having the courage to deepen the conversation with your colleagues surrounding an idea or issue, you are bringing a certain energy to work. You are being brave. Ultimately, people will feel this energy and it will have an impact on those around you


We all bring our “whole-selves” to work every day. Sometimes, you must drive the conversations in order to understand where people are coming from. This contextual information is key. Digging into the reasoning behind a person’s actions or verbal responses will help you to have a truer and fuller view of the situation. As Brown’s team noted in their research involving more than 50 organizations and approximately 10,000 individuals, utilizing rumble language has a positive impact on how leaders show up with their teams and how those teams perform. After all, you may find in turn that people are more engaged and willing to have conversations that will drive a better outcome for all. 


So, the next time you are in a meeting and start to feel frustrated or find yourself keeping quiet instead of voicing your thoughts, remember that YOU can move the needle. The way you participate and the energy (leadership) you bring to the table can have an impact on everyone around you. So, harness this opportunity by getting in the ring and having the courage to lead.


Tanya Riggan is the Client Relations Director at Koley Jessen, an 85-attorney law firm in Omaha, Nebraska. In her nearly 20-year career in professional services marketing, Tanya has worked with a Big 4 accounting firm and two AmLaw 100 law firms. Her current role includes strategy, coaching, training, business development and marketing. Tanya has recently been selected as a Legal Marketing Association Midwest Regional Board Member. After completing her B.B.A. in Marketing and Management at the University of Iowa, she received her MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. 

 About the authors

Amy P. Verhulst is the Director of Marketing, Business Development and Communications at Coats Rose, P.C., a 70-attorney law firm based in Houston, Texas. An experienced business development and marketing professional with 20 years of experience in the legal and professional services industries, Amy is responsible for all business development, marketing and communications initiatives for the firm, including growth strategies to drive revenue, leadership development, brand awareness, content management and public relations. Amy has a passion for professional, peer-to-peer organizations and currently serves as President of the Legal Marketing Association Southwest Region. She founded and leads the marketing and business development department at Coats Rose, P.C. in Houston, Texas, where she resides with her husband and two children.