woman holding a hat made of armour

Why Values Work Better in the Arena than Armour

When we feel frightened, tired, alone, up against it or under pressure, it can be tempting to want to protect ourselves by putting on the armour when we walk into the field or play or arena. When we armour up however, we are much more likely to create the very outcomes we’re trying to avoid – disconnection, a lack of engagement, or trying to preserve our sense of identity – at least how we perceive it or want it to be perceived. This is a powerful paradox. The harder we try to prove that we’re capable, have it all together and are worthy of people’s trust and acceptance, the more likely we are to destroy it. Hustling for our worth is a zero-sum game. It destroys the very heart of leadership – value creation.

The arena is the metaphor used by Brené Brown in her book  Dare to Lead,, based on the speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1910. In this article, we’ll discuss why values might be all you have to take into the arena – and sometimes, all you should take into the arena. 

a sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions saying courage and fear In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we laid the foundation about why braver leadership and fostering more courageous cultures in our organisations matters.  In Part 3, we got a better understanding of vulnerability. According to Brené Brown, brave leadership and courageous cultures require four kill sets: (1) Rumbling with Vulnerability; (2) Living into Our Values; (3) BRAVING Trust and (4) Learning to Rise.

The Arena

As Brené Brown says, “In those tough matches, when the critics are being extra loud and rowdy, it’s easy to start hustling—to try to prove, perfect, perform, and please.” In these moments, we forget why we are in the arena, which is particularly interesting given our values – our core beliefs – is what led us to the arena in the first place.

According to the research conducted by Brené and the team, the daring leaders who were interviewed were never empty-handed in the arena. In addition to rumble skills and tools, they always carried with them clarity of values. 

Let’s start by defining values, again through the lens of Dare to Lead. A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. Values guide us, prompt us into action, and help us make the right decision.

Why We Need Better Leaders

The central role of leadership is value-creation, whether in our organisations, government, not-for-profit entities or our local school. And in order to create value – at least in the long term – we need to be able to practice effective leadership. I believe real leadership consists of two dimensions or pillars: ethical leadership, represented by asking is it the right thing to do and brave leadership, represented by actually doing the right thing, even if it’s hard.




Ethical leadership is best served by firstly knowing our values and then living by them. Brave leadership is best served by taking off our self-protecting armour and leaning into the work with purpose, grit and courage. 

We have seen some very prominent examples recently where ethical decision making and actions were not present and it destroyed value – literally. In May, the mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed two rock shelters that demonstrated 46,000 years of continuous human occupation in the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara (Western Australia). The aftermath was fascinating and disturbing. 

Rio Tinto’s own internal review concluded that “Everyone and no-one was accountable.” The company stripped around $7million in bonuses from three executives but it didn’t recommend anyone being stood down. 

Shareholders and various stakeholder groups were not happy, believing that the penalty didn’t fit the ‘crime’.  After enormous pressure, Rio Tinto boss Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two senior executives will be replaced after an investor revolt forced the mining giant’s board to escalate its response.

There are numerous examples of failures of leadership, evidenced by the number of royal commissions and inquiries we’ve had in the last few years (e.g. Aged care, Mental Health, use of police informants, Hotel quarantine around COVID-19 in Victoria, and currently Crown Casino and it’s links to Asian syndicates and money laundering).

And every day in our organisations, we still tolerate bad behaviour in the form of bullying, sexual harassment, or people being treated poorly. We must demand a higher standard of behaviour in organisations and society for that matter. We must demand braver leadership. 

The question for each and every one of us is, “Are you a builder or a breaker?” 

Breakers destroy value through their actions or lack of actions, including trying to prove they’re right, using shame and blame to manage themselves and others, leading through compliance and control, not having the difficult conversations, professing values rather than practicing values, leading reactively, resisting change, and getting stuck by failures, setbacks and disappointments. It’s what Brené Brown calls armoured leadership.a hand placing 6 timber blocks on a surface

Leaders and teams alike face serious problems showing up in a vulnerable way at work; instead, sabotaging themselves and others and killing real collaboration, trust, innovation and creativity. 


Value creators – or Builders – create value by living in accordance with their values and what is deemed to be ethically sound by basic human standards. Builders work to create high-trust, safe workplaces where people can truly show up and be their best. 

Living into our values means firstly knowing our values and then actually living by them. It means being able to foster more humanistic organisational cultures. To do this, we need to continue to develop our level of self-awareness and courage skills.  We need to confront our own cognitive biases, limitations and fears. 

We need to work harder to cultivate braver, values-based leaders.

The author is a Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator. You can find out more about our in-person and virtual Dare Lead Courses here.

Why Values Work Better in the Arena than Armour