Brene Brown’s advice on how to stop ‘leading from control and compliance’

When leaders are working under an ideology of “compliance and control,” productivity is reduced to tasks devoid of context.

Bad bosses, whether of not they intend to do it, are ineffective leaders who rule through fear and power. They are sticklers about getting it done their way. They do not seek input from their colleagues. Tasks are done because they say so, not because of any higher purpose to the team’s mission. This management style builds confusion and resentment from colleagues who work in fear of getting it wrong.

But in a new excerpt for her book “Dare to Lead,” social scientist Dr. Brené Brown argues that there is a better way. Through her years of research on the psychology of shame and the power of vulnerability, she has made a career out of teaching us how to rewrite the untrue stories we tell ourselves. For manager to be better leaders, they need to learn how to cultivate commitment and shared purpose through their actions. Here’s how Brown suggests it can be done:

How to signal shared purpose in your actions

When leaders are working under an ideology of “compliance and control,” work is reduced to tasks devoid of context. These command-and-control bosses motivate their employees through the “the fear of “getting caught doing it wrong,” so that employees worry more about getting it done exactly how the boss wants it, than about how this task fits into the wider mission. Employees abdicate any autonomy they have.

Brown uses an example from her own job as an example of this compliant behavior.

Without giving clear direction about how she wanted her colleagues Murdoch and Barrett to facilitate a workshop, Brown said she ends up disappointed with the result. Next time, she spells out what she wants her colleagues to do, and her colleague answers,  “Sure. What does ‘done’ look like?”

This question of “what does ‘done’ look like?” is an improvement from no communication about expectations over work, but Brown says the results get better when the question becomes “Let’s ‘paint’ done.” That way, both parties feel welcome to give input about any ideas or concerns they have about a problem.

“It unearths stealth expectations and unsaid intentions, and it gives the people who are charged with the task tons of color and context. It fosters curiosity, learning, collaboration, reality-checking, and ultimately success,” Brown said. “We want people to share our commitment to purpose and mission, not to comply because they’re afraid not to. That’s exhausting and unsustainable for everyone.”

By inviting employees’ input into a decision, it reminds employees and employers that they are not enemies on opposite sides; they are colleagues who have a shared purpose. As leadership expert Randy Conley once told Ladders, being transparent and open about collaboration helps employees build trust with one another: “If you involve your team in not just hiring decisions, but also in the strategies you’re developing as a team, the action plans you’re focused on, it creates much more ownership. They’re invested in it. They will be less likely to work against your plans if they’ve had a hand informing them.”

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at