I’m not talking about hand-to-hand, gun-to-gun, charge the hill type of courage. No, bravery in battle is not the same thing as courageous leadership. And make no mistake about it—leaders need courage to be successful.
Nobody wants to follow a coward. It’s that simple. And yes, cowardice is the opposite of courage, no matter how much that word hurts.
Courage means strength of character; to push forward in the face of resistance. Strength of character for new thinking, new ideas, challenges to status quo. Courage is saying what others may not want to hear, and holding the line on performance and behavior expectations. It’s calling out the elephant in the room, swinging at the 3-2 pitch, shining light on skeletons in the closet, and pummeling any of a dozen other, pithy idioms and analogies. It’s doing the right thing, even when doing right can leave a mark.
It takes courage to lead.
But what exactly does that mean? Is there a “do-this-and-you’ll-be-courageous” guide or pdf we can download? Is there a 12-step program for courage? Well, no. Courage, like leadership, is situational. The answer to every question is the ubiquitous “it depends.”
Courageous Leaders lead. From the front. Setting direction, discussing a vision, charting a course, and making course corrections when needed. But what about specific actions? What can you do—today—if you want to demonstrate real courage in leadership? Well, there are a few things that courageous leaders often do:
- Make decisions. Leaders are decision makers. Period. If waiting for additional information may LIKELY change your current thinking, then wait. If not, you’re just stalling—pull the trigger. See my blog post here at BrazenLeader.com for a related article.
- Set big-ass goals, objectives and personal standards. Your level of excellence and expectation for your product, service, or experience should be damned near unattainable. Safe goals are set by safe leaders. Safe leaders have safe visions. Safe visions produce status-quo. Decidedly NON-courageous. Big goals are set by big leaders; courageous goals by courageous leaders. This isn’t rocket science. Give your people a goal that scares them, and you’ll produce leaders who know what it means to overcome fear.
- Empower others. This takes rock-star courage from a leader. Learn to say YES when subordinates suggest a path. You’ve got to let go, and allow others to succeed. Are some going to disappoint? Yep. That’s why it takes courage. Some will let you down, some will not be up to the task. Still others may take a non-courageous route on your empowered dime. Suck it up, buttercup. It’s what courageous leaders do.
- Learn to say NO. Not every risk is a good one. Be courageous, and courageously disciplined. Aggressively pursue those few things that make sense. Say no to everything else—even if it means saying no more often than you’re comfortable.
- Demand failure. You read that correctly. Demand failure. The real road to success isn’t paved with perfection—it’s paved with failures and near-misses. Allow—even encourage—your team to fail as they drive toward success. Reward innovation. Innovation requires taking risks. And bold risks create bold team members. I have a client CEO who consistently and constantly is telling his leadership team to try so hard—get so far in front of comfort—that some failure is almost guaranteed. Embrace it.
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is confronting your fears and overcoming. Courageous leaders face their fears, step up, and charge ahead, knowing that accelerating through the fear is the very cure for fear itself.
“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”
Step up, be courageous.