Leadership Requires Courage

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“I am convinced that courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.”
~Maya Angelou

One of the best ways to get people to buy into the team’s goals is to get them to buy into you as a leader: can they trust to have their backs? More specifically, can they trust you to get to know them, so that they’ll believe you know what’s important to them, and that you’ll wield leadership in a way that makes them confident that you respect and consider their needs when you make decisions? In order to achieve this level of trust, you’ll need them to trust that you have a backbone and aren’t a “yes person” to either the folks above or below you. You’ll also exercise careful stewardship over your power and authority so that you communicate decisions and directives (including unpopular ones) in a manner that doesn’t alienate, antagonize, or indulge your ego just because you can. Not only must you learn to walk the tightrope, you must do so with confidence, humility, and regard for people.

It takes courage to accept the leadership mantle knowing that leadership is something that you grow into, which means you also accept that you’ll make mistakes and confront tremendous hurdles. The irony is that many people don’t realize this is what they’re doing! Oftentimes, because their leadership paradigms come from working with authoritarian style leaders, they believe themselves to be becoming directors who only need to tell people what to do and voila, it’s done. Frankly, many leaders want this kind of authority. Leaders who indulge this style don’t enjoy the same level of success as their counterparts who take leadership from a different vantage point: I must see my employees as people I serve and guide while loving them fiercely which enables us advance our goal. Unfortunately, some people realize the insufficiency of authority-based leadership after they’ve attempted to wield it and are walking in the wake of . damaged relationships (which is more significant than the failed objective). Thus, leadership takes even more courage because leaders must embrace how vulnerable they are to their own teams despite their power. It takes courage to accept that you just as subject to them as they are to you.


Once you accept the mutual vulnerability of leadership and begin to see yourself as the steward of the team, you can begin the real work of finding ways to get the people on your team to fully commit to the shared purpose and strategic goals of the team. Below are strategies that you can implement to practice your courage.


  1. Create your own informal 360⁰ feedback committee.
    Find some people who will be honest with you. Plain and simple. Countless studies tell us that that leaders get less and less honest information as they ascend the ranks. This happens for several reasons. First, subordinates are afraid of how you’ll respond, or they’ve learned that they’ll be ignored. Peers feel overwhelmed by their own obligations and may see you as competition. Superiors are trying to balance a lot of challenges, may not prioritize giving feedback, and may believe the facade you’re putting forth that says you’re doing fine and don’t need it.

  2. Acknowledge problems, even if you don’t have a solution.
    When problems aren’t addressed, they don’t go away. Instead, here’s what happens:
    a) People will question the organization’s values and priorities, i.e., “As obvious as this problem is, it’s going unaddressed; therefore, it must not really matter to the people who make decisions”;
    b) People will second guess themselves, i.e., “Maybe I don’t understand the culture or what is really important here”; or
    c) People will only do what they know to be safe; thus, you lose access to the feedback loop that enables ongoing improvement, i.e, “I know nobody will complain about x; I’ll just stick to that because I don’t want any problems”.
    Also, by putting problems on the table, you increase your own accountability for making decisions.
  3. Create safety to get hard-to-hear feedback.
    Get people to share what they really think. This means that you will need to increase your comfort with criticism, conflict, and emotions other than happiness because your team is likely going to experience some rough patches. In order to get through rough patches, honest communication is a must. So, if you can get people to open up, be sure to do the following:
    a) Actually implement the feedback and acknowledge them PUBLICLY.  Public acknowledgement encourages others to share. b) If you can’t implement the feedback, tell them why PUBLICLY.  Public acknowledgement communicates respect for the time and effort taken to offer it.
  4. d) If you really don’t want feedback, don’t solicit it because doing so is patronizing; however, it would serve you to explain why feedback isn’t welcomed.

  5. Take risks and articulate how you extend trust.
    Essentially, this means you take risks, which is important for you, the people you lead, and your organization. Without risk, nobody is growing. Mistakes come with the territory. But the other side of this reality is that risk can be damaging, so you manage it proactively by having a plan B. Early on, decide what you can sacrifice and how much time you’ll need to change course, if necessary. If you need to manage risk by managing someone in a way that looks as if you’re micro-managing them, tell them why.
  6. Let people see you as human.
    If you know you have qualities that could threaten the safety of the workplace, own that information. For example, if you know that you’re slow to make decisions, tell your people (…and what it takes for you to speed up)! If more than once you’ve received feedback that suggests your communication style is aggressive, prepare people for it. Have enough humility to acknowledge your mistakes and oddities. Being perfect doesn’t make people respect you; it possibly makes them fear you. Aim to be a relatable leader that they’d consider emulating.

As you practice these steps, your exercise in courage will shift to confidence because you will have found that these tools work if you work them consistently. Your decision to accept your vulnerability as a leader and love the the people you lead will be affirmed in your reputation and accomplishments.  


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