Years ago, when I began the process of writing The Heart of Leadership, I identified dozens of leadership character traits. In my attempt to create a short list of the most essential, I decided Respond with Courage had to be included. Courage is the catalyst for great leadership.
Without courage, our leadership is latent, unseen and nothing more than unrealized potential. Leadership without courage is not leadership at all. It is courage that puts leadership into play. Its presence in our lives empowers us as leaders; its absence quickly disqualifies us as someone people want to follow.
Courage is needed virtually every day in the life of a leader. Courage is needed to…
- Establish a bold vision.
- Confront big problems.
- Allocate resources strategically.
- Deal with difficult people.
- Stay the course when things get hard.
- Make decisions without all the information.
- Challenge the status quo.
- Bust bureaucracy.
- Get out of your own comfort zone.
- Make unpopular decisions.
- Break with tradition.
- Tell the whole a truth.
And the list goes on and on and on – forever!
One additional benefit of becoming a leader who responds with courage: our courage will be contagious. Our courageous response in challenging and difficult situations will embolden those we lead.
If we are going to lead well, courage will be required.
The question you may be asking, “What if I’m not courageous?” First, I don’t think courage is a binary function – meaning you either have it or you don’t. I think it is much more complicated.
For me, I find my courage is situational. As an example, I may be very courageous when facing questions of strategy. To say, “Burn the boats” and move into uncharted waters is usually not that difficult. However, I often have trouble finding the courage to make hard people decisions.
The other complicating factor about courage is that it’s not a constant. Even in arenas where you are typically courageous, you may find, from time to time, your courage waning.
The bottom line is simple - you and I need courage to lead well. The more courageous we can become, the better we’ll lead. If we can’t muster significant courage in the day-to-day situations like the ones I mentioned earlier, we’ll forever limit our influence, our impact and our leadership.
Courage may seem like a good idea to you but you may be wondering, how to make it so in your life and leadership. In The Heart of Leadership, I share several ideas how we can grow our ability to Respond with Courage. For today, I’ll offer one tip: be courageous in the little things.
I know this may sound strange, but think of courage like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you’ll strengthen it. Look for opportunities throughout your day to respond with courage. Here are a few examples…
When you’re in a meeting and you have a question, ask it.
When you see a problem, confront it.
When you hear of a new cross-functional team being formed that you’d like to be a part of, volunteer.
When you make a mistake, own it.
When someone treats you poorly, forgive.
Decide today that you will become a more courageous leader and begin talking small steps every day. When you do, you’ll be amazed at the effect.[GLS_Shield]