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Cracking Complexity

The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast

Brené Brown

Random House, 2018


Reviewed by Denis Fortier, MD


Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, a researcher at the University of Houston, has spent her life studying and writing about courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has now taken these important lessons and applied them to the workforce and to leadership.


This book helps leaders (and other people) understand and work toward a more vulnerable and courageous style of leadership.


Early in this book, a quote from Theodore Roosevelt summarizes the theme well. It goes like this:


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, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


Brown uses this famous speech to launch her book, which she organizes in four broad sections.


Part 1: Rumbling with vulnerability

In this section, which makes up two thirds of the book, Brown invites us to “step into the arena” without armour and to fully understand what that means. Stepping into the arena in this way requires a deep understanding of who we are and what causes us to “armour up.” Based on Brown’s research, the answer lies in understanding vulnerability and shame, understanding our shame triggers, and finding ways to navigate all of this with courage, empathy, and self-compassion. The lessons in this section of the book are relatable as much to our personal lives as to our professional lives.


Part 2: Living into our values

In this section, Brown encourages us to further understand self-awareness and does so through the lens of understanding our own core values. A practical workbook companion helps guide readers through this section and toward finding their core values.1


Part 3: Braving trust

In this section, through storytelling, Brown defines trust and the importance of building trust in leadership. Trust is not built around earth-shattering events, but rather in the smallest of moments over time, through small but consistent relationship-building blocks.


In her earlier books, and again in this one, Brené Brown walks us through the BRAVING inventory. It has taken me a while to remember it and longer yet to fully understand and appreciate its value.


B is for boundaries — Respecting boundaries, yours and others.

R is for reliability — You do what you say you will do.

A is for accountability — Own your mistakes. Apologize.

V is for vault — As in, I only share stories that are mine. Stories that others have shared with me remain in my vault, not to be shared with others.

I is for Integrity — Courage over comfort. Do what is right not what is easy.

N is for non-judgement — The ability to lean into difficult conversations without judgement.

G is for generosity — Try to be generous in your interpretation of what others say or do.


Part 4: Learning to rise

In this last section, Brown summarizes the lessons in this book and uses a three-step format to help navigate rumbling in the arena.


The reckoning: This is an information-gathering time: external information (data, facts, etc.), but also internal information (becoming aware of how you feel, of why you feel what you are feeling). All the lessons in Part 1 of the book prepare you for this critical first step into the arena.


The rumble: Walking into the arena without your armour by staying present, curious, and empathic is both vulnerable and courageous. It will get messy, and there may be dust and sweat and blood. But this is where leaders can make a difference. Vulnerability is not weakness. It is courage.

The revolution: Brown’s message about courageous and daring leadership, leading with empathy and vulnerability, presents opportunities to transform our culture, our workplace, our organizations.


A lot of information is packed into these pages. Be prepared to return to this book, or the audiobook for those so inclined, because you will learn and relearn some of the lessons better with the second or third reading. Brené Brown also has a dare to lead website with free downloadable workbooks to enhance your experience (


Those of you familiar with Brené Brown’s past work will recognize much of what she has to say. For those of you who have not heard of her, this book may encourage you to read some of her other works.


See you in the arena my friends.



1.Brown B. Dare to lead: read-along workbook. Brené Brown; 2019.



Denis Fortier, MD, is vice-president medical services, Southern Health – Santé Sud, and chairs the Manitoba Clinical Leadership Council.


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