I recently wrote about some fears that leaders face. As part of my practice, I work with people to define mission-critical activities and develop courageous leadership habits. This post focuses on demonstrating courageous leadership.
First, let’s get past the notion that courageous leadership is fearless. Fears are a useful survival instinct and a signal for us to act to move through our limiting beliefs.
Here are six ways leaders demonstrate courage:
Raise our standards. There is a regression to the mean in most systems and processes. Overcoming this requires us to invent the next goal that stretches our current capabilities and comfort level. Confusion exists just before learning happens. We experience conscious incompetence before conscious competence. We fall before riding hands-free. There is nothing we do as people or leaders that doesn’t start with a level of discomfort. But enhancing our self-worth relies on us challenging ourselves to grow. Taking these risks and moving through the fear is courageous.
Do the right thing. Following a personal code is doing the right thing. It’s not always the path of least resistance, and it will, perhaps frequently, require us to engage in challenging discussions and take actions that the people around us disagree with or resist. The feeling that rises in our stomachs when we are doing the right thing is different from the sense when we are not. Trust that instinct. Leaders who look at the values on the wall when making a tough decision, and then act in alignment with those values, are working courageously.
Use respectful straight talk. People deserve to hear the truth. Leaders sometimes believe that protecting the team from a situation is doing everyone a favor. They may think, “I don’t want to worry them about the financial situation, it’s up to me to solve.” More often, a performance issue arises, and we stutter through an attempt to discuss the problem with an employee. Or we don’t discuss it at all, hoping that the issue will magically resolve itself. If a leader’s motive is to serve the team and the company, having the constructive conversation, however challenging the subject, is an example of courageous leadership.
Experience vulnerability. I’ve shed many tears at work. It may happen while celebrating a win with the team or when sitting across from an employee being asked to leave the company. Tears are not a requirement for displaying vulnerability, allowing yourself to be open to connection is the main thing. Some leaders believe being stoic is the right path—never let them see you sweat. There are times when stoicism is the right mindset. But being vulnerable allows people to get a glimpse of your humanity, to connect with you and trust you at a different level. Being vulnerable demonstrates courageous leadership.
Take a committed stand. Every highly effective leader possesses self-awareness. Part of that leader’s development requires looking in the mirror and reflecting on who they’ve become—perhaps the leader that stands up and has a person’s back after a mistake or one that sits silently as a boss berates a peer. We choose what things mean to us and whether and when to take a stand for something we believe. If our motive is to help the people and the place to the best of our abilities, then there will be times that taking a committed stand is required. Taking a position shows up as courageous leadership.
Be a role model for excellence. Perhaps the best legacy a leader can create is the effectiveness of the people she has coached and mentored. It’s one thing to lead people when we’re in the room with them. It’s another level of excellence when those people effectively lead when we aren’t around. By continually developing your knowledge, skills, and abilities as a leader, you become a role model for future leaders. Role modeling excellence is a form of courageous leadership.
Takeaway: With deliberate practice, every leader can demonstrate courageous leadership when required. No Wonder Woman or Superman costumes are required to be courageous; we just need to be the best versions of ourselves and be motivated to serve our teams.