Volatility and complexity impact every organization. Leaders can prepare for the increasingly dynamic work environment by developing courageous leadership habits in themselves and their teams.
First, let’s dismiss the notion that courageous leadership is fearless. Fears are a signal for us to act and move through the limiting beliefs that slow us down or stop us from doing our best work.
Second, measure the investment required to be more courageous in time and attention. Take the time to pause and think about the next thing we say and do and pay close attention to our motives.
Third, it has nothing to do with titles. Courageous leadership potential exists in everyone, waiting for us to choose it from the toolbox.
Six ways we demonstrate courageous leadership
Raise our standards. There is a regression to the mean in most systems and processes. Overcoming this requires us to invent the next goal to stretch our current capabilities and challenge our comfort level.
Confusion always precedes learning. We experience conscious incompetence before conscious competence. We fall before riding hands-free. New experiences often begin with some pain. But enhancing our self-worth happens when we challenge ourselves to grow.
Taking these risks and moving through the discomfort is courageous.
Key point: Raising our standards is required for personal growth and professional progress to happen. Status quo rarely requires courage.
Do the right thing. Following a personal code is doing the right thing. It’s not always the path of least resistance. It requires us to engage in challenging discussions and take actions that the people around us disagree with or resist.
The sensation that arises in our stomachs when we are doing the right thing is different from the feeling when we are not. Trust that instinct.
Leaders who consider the values on the wall and act in alignment with those values when deciding are acting courageously.
Key point: Doing the right thing requires us only to pause, notice, ask, and act.
Use respectful straight talk. People deserve to hear the truth. Leaders sometimes believe that protecting the team from a messy situation is doing everyone a favor. They may think, “I don’t want to worry them about our financial problems, it’s up to me to solve.” Share the current reality, engage the team, and solve the problem together.
Sometimes, 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. It won’t. Speak candidly about the issue, make it safe for the person, and get everything on the table.
A significant driver of employee engagement is whether the employee understands why the organization makes changes. Leaders who explain the why help create a virtuous cycle of engagement and productivity.
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.
Key point: Respectful straight talk happens when people value relationships and results and find a way to discuss, productively, the things that matter. Furthermore, it is a foundational element of high-performance people, teams, and organizations.
Demonstrate vulnerability. I’ve shed some tears at work. It happened 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 demonstrating our vulnerability. Most of all, 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.
Key point: Leaders who desire to contribute at the highest level ask for help from a trusted boss, mentor, or coach to support their growth. They dismiss the view that not knowing is a sign of weakness. They know that with the right skills, mindset, and coaching, anything is possible for them and their team.
Take a committed stand. Every highly effective leader possesses self-awareness. Part of a leader’s development requires looking in the mirror and reflecting on who they’ve become. Are they 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 position 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. Courageous leadership happens when we take a position and defend it.
Key point: Whatever their titles, those who fight for things they believe in are the influencers and leaders of our organizations.
Be a role model for excellence. Perhaps the best legacy a leader can create lies in the capabilities and 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 depth and excellence when those people brilliantly lead themselves and others when we aren’t around.
If your motive is to serve others while you consistently develop your knowledge, skills, and abilities as a leader, you are a role model for future leaders. Role modeling excellence is a form of courageous leadership.
Key point: Most of all, showing up, being present, and developing the heart of a teacher and a learner represent role model behavior.
Takeaway: Successfully leading in dynamic environments requires us to display courageous leadership habits. Most importantly, our ability to demonstrate courageous leadership is available to each of us at every moment. No superhero costumes are required; we just need to access the best versions of ourselves as we serve our teams and customers.