Courageous Leadership

"To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage."

— Henri Matisse


I often find myself reflecting on how inspiring the leaders I coach are. Whether it’s our Transformational Leadership Program participants, Managing Partners, Executive Committees, staff in our training workshops or other individuals whom I coach, when I get to the root of why these individuals inspire me so much, it comes down to their courage.

Most of us have heard – and use the term – “fearless leader.”  Well, I’m here to tell you, there is no such thing.  Courage is defined as taking action despite your fear, rather than in the absence of fear. In our quest to “get better” and develop as leaders, each of us (me included!) has our own areas in which to improve and real barriers to becoming great leaders. Whatever it is, the willingness to get better and be open to change - whether the change is great or small - is courageous!

I attended my son’s Kindergarten Nursery Rhyme program last week, and each child was assigned a nursery rhyme to memorize and recite.  I was so impressed by their courage in presenting their rhymes.  I was especially moved by one little boy who could barely speak into the microphone his teacher was holding, but he didn’t back down and he finished it.  They all did.  That’s what we ask our children to do all the time – be courageous and try something new, even if they’re not comfortable with it, fearful, or uncertain about the outcome.  I love Jamie Lee Curtis’ book My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives, where she explores all the “firsts” of a five year old.  As adults our “first” are fewer, for some even non-existent, as we get more and more complacent and stay in our comfort zones rather than challenge ourselves and be willing to change.

I see real courage when I witness leaders demonstrate a “first” such as:

-        Inviting a target account (whom they don’t know) to lunch

-        Volunteering for a public speaking opportunity – for the first time or on a larger scale than they’ve done before

-        Speaking up in a meeting and sharing their ideas or views or addressing a sacred cow to the benefit of their team and the firm

-        Engaging in straight talk when something isn’t working or addressing a performance issue

-        Refrainingfrom triangulating by admitting that they have been actively participating in it

-        Confronting reality and making a decision that is right for the business even when it’s not comfy or perhaps not in their best personal interest

-        Being vulnerable and sharing their weakness, a mistake or asking for forgiveness (or granting forgiveness first!)

Leadership isn’t an easy task and the journey looks different for each of us.  If you’re struggling to take an action you know must be taken to make a difference for you (and others), consider applying my partner Jennifer’s Four Simple, Yet Challenging Steps To Personal Growth.  Her four steps will help you build the courage to take the steps needed to drive change in you and your organization.

I’m confident that there are many areas where you are courageous and act, too!
When you look around, notice your team members and others being courageous, too.  Take a moment to acknowledge yourself and others for the courage you see. You may just find you’re as inspired by their leadership as I am – and find that next “first” for you.

What courageous action or new behavior is there for you to take?  Being brave enough to try new things is what leadership is all about!