Physical courage is easy to understand and visualize, but courageous leadership is something many people struggle to conceptualize. Despite the difficulty in defining it, courage is frequently viewed as an admired and highly valued characteristic in leaders.
“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” Mark Twain
What is Courageous Leadership?
The dictionary defines courage as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. And it defines leadership as the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. Loosely combined, courageous leadership is having moral strength to motivate others to act. That means leaders must be able to make sound decisions for people to follow.
Here are the steps to making sound decisions.
- Identify the problem and the decision that needs to be made.
- Gather relevant, credible information.
- Identify possible solutions.
- Determine the consequences of each solution.
- Select desired solution.
- Implement the solution.
- Evaluate the effects to ensure problem has been solved.
“Courage is the main quality of leadership, no matter where it is exercised and usually it implies some risk, especially in new undertakings.” Walt Disney
Why is Courageous Leadership Important?
Because leadership courage is a nebulous word, understanding why it is important can help provide clarity. Here are some examples of how courage can be applied to leadership and the benefits it brings to the leader.
Courage Builds Trust
By having the courage to be honest with people, to be genuine and authentic, you can gain peoples trust. When people trust you, they will be open to your influences and follow your direction.
Courage Encourages Accountability
Although we may not want to call people out, having the courage to do so makes everyone more accountable for their words and actions.
Courage Provides Healthy Conflict
When we have the courage to express our ideas and opinions, it allows open discussion on topics. Even though we may be wary of how others will react, having respectful discussions allows for various viewpoints to be brought forward and explored.
Courage Strengthens Ethics
Speaking up for what is right is a sign of courage. Leaders are not bystanders. Leaders demonstrate integrity and uphold a moral code even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
Courage Enhances Collaboration
Having trust, accountability, healthy conflict, and a safe environment, all set the stage for strong collaboration. Courage to facilitate these foundations for collaboration makes teams more effective.
Courage Allows Risk Taking
Growth requires some degree of risk. Courageous leaders take calculated risks in pursuit of success. They do not let fear of failure hold them back. They embrace new opportunities.
Courage Creates Creative Energy
It takes courage to innovate and provide new and creative ideas and opportunities. Leaders must set the tone and environment for creative energy while having the courage to embrace the changes that this energy will bring.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. … The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line, it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Roadblocks to Courageous Leadership
With all the benefits of applying courage to leadership, why doesn’t everyone do it? It goes back to recognizing that a key element to courage is overcoming fear. Understanding your fears, and discovering ways to overcome them, is essential to developing your leadership courage. The most common fears that prevent leaders from being courageous include:
- Fear of facing reality. Leaders must meet challenges head on.
- Fear of not knowing everything. You will never know everything. Leaders must make the best decisions they can with the information they have.
- Fear of acknowledging feedback. Leaders must allow themselves to be vulnerable and accept constructive criticism.
- Fear of giving credit. Leaders must put their ego aside and recognize those around them who contribute to their success.
Learning to identify and conquer these fears is a sign of a courageous leader.
Putting It All Together
Most leadership trainings focus on improving outcomes measurements. This means they focus on improving the process of how things are managed; that is management training. Leadership involves people and therefore requires interpersonal skills. Excelling in interpersonal skills is what will provide a strong foundation for exhibiting courage in leadership.
Skills that develop courage include decision making, open communication, facilitating conflict, clearly defined purpose and values, collaboration, and an innovation mindset. The more these skills are practiced, the more your leadership courage will develop. Assess your skills on these topics. Consider ways you can strengthen each of these skills in order to strengthen your leadership ability for courage.
Is your leadership courageous?