Brené Brown’s books on shame, vulnerability and courage have given her A-list fans like Oprah and Melinda Gates and made her a go-to leadership consultant for both Pixar and the Seattle Seahawks.
But Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, thought she’d spend her career writing for other academics, not making the New York Times’ best-seller list.
“My goal was to put it in peer-reviewed articles that no one would read but like five people and they would just read it to check to make sure they were quoted,” Brown told The Associated Press from her home in Houston.
Five best-selling books later, Brown is debuting her first Netflix special on Friday, Brené Brown: The Call to Courage, based off her two decades of research. The special is a bit of an experiment for the streaming service, whose categories Brown doesn’t neatly fit into.
“Am I comedy? Documentary? True crime?” Brown joked.
Brown’s skill as a writer and speaker is that she doesn’t sound like a typical self-help or leadership expert who is shouting motivational speaker mantras. She has a researcher’s mind for patterns and a storyteller’s gift of language. She peppers her talks with plenty of Texas colloquialisms, like “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but white stripes and dead armadillos.” She tells personal anecdotes about her kids and her husband to illustrate her broader ideas about parenting, compassion, leadership and more.
“People will come up to me and say, ‘I already knew everything you said. I just didn’t have the language to say it. I didn’t know we were allowed to talk about it,'” said Brown. “And so I think I just put language around feelings and experiences and thoughts that we all have.”
She can also curse like a true Southern lady, which is just enough to set people at ease and give them a laugh. “Not like Andrew Dice Clay,” she said. “An appropriate amount of cursing.”
In the special she talks about her 2010 speech on vulnerability that has become one of the most watched TED Talk speeches, now viewed about 39 million times. Her most recent book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, is a playbook for leading with empathy.
When asked about leadership qualities she hopes to see among candidates for the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election, Brown took a long pause.
“I am one-inch away from being completely disenchanted with politics but I’m holding on. I’m white-knuckling it right now,” she said. “I need a political system where the people who make the decisions actually are required to live by them and are not in such an elite position where they make policy and laws and financial decisions that don’t affect them.”
The Netflix special is good timing for Brown, who has spent years traveling all over the country giving speeches to corporations, entrepreneurs, women’s conferences and leadership training events.
Her youngest child is in middle school and she’s moving into a period of her career where she’s doing less of those speaking opportunities in order to be at home. But with Netflix, she has a chance to continue building on the conversations she started with her books.
“This opportunity from Netflix just felt like such a deeply important gift,” Brown said. “This thing is going to drop in 190 countries.”