Courage & Leadership

Courage & Leadership

The world and many workplaces seem hungry for courageous conversations. These are conversations where people are encouraged to respectfully express their views openly and truthfully, without retribution or negative ramification. Out of courageous dialogs, new, deeper, and shared understanding emerges.

It is the leader’s job to encourage these conversations at every level of an organization. It takes courage, confidence, trust, faith, risk. This indeed may be one of the most challenging aspects of leadership, to foster both an environment and an approach for the courageous conversation and to be brave enough to both invite it and to listen. Paradoxically, the more courage we bring to our work and work environments the more openness and trust that exists—thus, more creativity, innovation, and productivity flow.

Courage is the degree to which leaders engage in wholehearted participation with life, with others, with community, with work, and with their future. To be courageous is to know and plant our values and beliefs deeply in the body, in the culture, and in the world.

Leading ourselves and others with courage is to live up to and into the things that matter most to us, despite their degree of difficulty. To live and work courageously is to stay true to the manner we are made—and how we are made to meet the world.

The best leaders within and among us hold the following together:

  • Personal ambition and the good of the whole,
  • Individual happiness and service to others,
  • Long-term gains and short-term struggles,
  • Consistently delivering on promises made to customers and clients with the equally difficult promises made to employees,
  • The even more difficult promises made to spouses, partners, mates, children, and family,
  • And the sometimes impossible promises made to ourselves.

The courageous leader lives in the intersection of their authentic public profile and more private relationships. Leaders must risk the vulnerability to be seen as imperfect, not having all the answers. Leaders are tasked to hold a vision, see it through, and nurture a space for their team to thrive. It is this space that leaders inhabit that requires constant courage but also permits great reward.

The difficult dynamic of most leaders today, emerging or otherwise, is the shift away from the command-and-control system toward a far more dynamic and interrelation way of participating in work. It’s a system that demands not only self-belief that allows a leader to speak and have a vision, but the vulnerability that enables them to be present to what is and fully listen. This is a courageous stance.

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

— Brené Brown

Here are some questions that I explore when working with leaders:

  • How are you complicit in the unwanted outcomes that you say you don’t want?
  • How frequently and in what situations are you choosing comfort over courage?
  • To what degree are you showing up and being seen even when you cannot control the outcome?
  • What does it take to lead with courage in today’s demanding and distracted world? What are the tools and approaches you cultivate in your organization to foster this?
  • How do we, as leaders, encourage and inspire courage among our team, our clients, our partners, our work, and foster it within ourselves?
  • When things get tough (or scary), do we open to vulnerability and get curious, or do we self-protect in ways that move us away from our values? (This assumes we know our values and, therefore, we know when our values are compromised)

“It’s not fear that gets in the way of daring leadership; it’s armor”

— Brené Brown

Tools for you:

As you can tell, I’m inspired by the insightful work of researcher, author, and speaker, Brené Brown. Here’s a link to free tools she shares with leaders. And, here’s a link to her free Daring Leadership Assessment.

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