Think of a great leader that you admire and respect. What are the characteristics that this person exhibits? In my work teaching leadership practices and fundamentals, I often pose this question to my audiences. I hear answers like integrity, accountability, confidence, vision, passion, and courage. After a participant shouts out an answer, I ask them to elaborate on how the leaders that they look up to demonstrate these qualities.
When we explore the quality of courage, it typically doesn’t show up as the kind of courage that is associated with bravery and being willing to put oneself in danger. It is usually more subtle than that. When a leader acts with courage, they are willing to take an unpopular stand, enter into a conflict or act with incomplete information, thereby taking a risk to achieve their goals and objectives.
In his book ONE: The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership, Lance Secretan introduces courage as one of the six attributes of conscious leaders (the others are authenticity, service, truthfulness, love, and effectiveness, which forms the acronym CASTLE.) Secretan tells the story of Sorious Samura, whose debut film, Out of Africa (Cry Freetown,) gives a harrowing account of the victims of civil war in his home country of Sierra Leone. In 1999, he was filming the rebels who had invaded Freetown and was captured, punished and threatened with death if he was caught filming again. He courageously continued to film despite the danger involved and the toll that it took on him to watch the horrific acts that he witnessed and filmed.
Samura won the prestigious Rory Peck Award for his documentary. At the awards ceremony, Samura said, “You guys are clapping me [sic] for showing you pictures of my people killing each other. But where were you? Why didn’t you go there? I didn’t put my life on the line for an award or money. Take your award back if you want to, but go there, go to Sierra Leone.” He received a standing ovation – and financial support to fund his return to Sierra Leone to continue his work.
Sorious Samura near the Breidjing camp in Chad
Most people would smile and soak up the applause and recognition instead of having the courage to admonish the audience for their lack of physical support. It takes an uncommon kind of courage to first take the actions – and risk – to support a cause you believe in and then to speak up and say what you think and publicly stand for that cause. Summon up the courage to say what you need to say and do what you need to do today. Make that phone call, speak up in the meeting, or schedule a conversation to address an issue that needs to be resolved. What action have you been putting off that you should do?
Demonstrate uncommon courage and be the kind of leader that people admire and respect. When you do, you have the chance to make a real impact and to affect the kind of change that creates a positive difference for the people and the issues that are important to you!