Leading with Courage

Leading with courage involves overcoming our own fears, apathy or feelings of hopelessness as we pursue a course of action that we believe is right. It is the ability to handle events in the moment and not recoil when the going gets rough. Courage is the ability to face difficulty, uncertainty or pain without being overwhelmed or being knocked off course by external factors. The word courage comes from the French meaning, to give heart. Leading courageously gives “heart” or encouragement to others. Today’s times require courage – the courage to take risks, to put yourself in harms-way if necessary, to pursue your dreams, to lead others, to be the very best “you,” you can be.

Acting courageously doesn’t always feel good. In fact, it’s usually frightening or at least uncomfortable. Interviews done with “heroes” have shown that the key factor in acting courageously is taking immediate and responsive action. We certainly saw this on a human level when so many at the Boston Marathon ran in the direction of the bombs to help others injured.

In business, being courageous requires telling the truth and being authentic. It’s difficult to act courageously in some organizations, even when you are the CEO, because not rocking the boat has become a cultural norm. You can start a company, hold certain values, but the culture can get away from you when you don’t pay close attention. What gets modeled and rewarded is what gets done. I can’t tell you how many leaders have shared their frustrations with me about the disparity between what they had hoped their company culture would be and what it turned out to be in reality. That’s why clarity on direction and values and hiring the right people to represent the organization are essential ingredients in the mix of culture.

Courageous leadership is risky. So it’s critical to be clear on what’s important and to be willing to live with the consequences of the risk/s you take. Part of my role in coaching and consulting is to be a “thought partner” to others, asking hard questions that require thought as well as listening to your heart. Here are some thinking questions about courage and risk taking that you might consider:

  • Why is this direction or decision important to me? To others?
  • What are my values? What do I stand for?
  • Are my values aligned with the actions I need to take?
  • What are the risks involved in taking this stance?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  • What do I risk by not taking this risk?
  • How will others benefit?
  • What do I gain by taking this risk?
  • How will this impact those I lead?

If you’ve been able to gain some insight and define what the next step for you might be that requires courage, take heart. What’s critical is addressing our fears from a place of detachment and assessing the path that’s the best fit for us. When all is said and done, we must leap empty handed into the void and trust.

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