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Friday, March 05, 2010

Leaders Must Display Courage

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." Ambrose Redmoon

Do you have the courage to lead? Successful leaders must possess a variety of skills and attributes to be effective - and courage is certainly a critical one.

What is courage? Courage is demonstrating faith, optimism, and action in an unknown, usually risky, and often scary situation. As Mark Twain said, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."

Viewed in this way, leadership can be thought of as an ongoing series of decisions and actions that require large and small amounts of courage. Successful leaders must summon their own courage and that of their followers on a daily basis. 

Here are at least 5 different ways that leaders must demonstrate courage.

1. Courage to Put Yourself Out There

If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to stand for something. You must go out on a limb and profess and practice your belief in someone, something, and/or some cause. Rather than sitting idly by and doing nothing, leadership demands that you put yourself out there to be a passionate advocate for whatever it is you are supporting or defending. When you extend yourself, you must be prepared and courageous enough to take shots and criticism from those who do not support you or your cause.

"Leadership is a choice. It is the choice not to do nothing." Seth Godin

What are you willing to stand for?

2. Courage to Dream Big Dreams  

Not only must you have the courage to put yourself out there when you lead, you also must have the audacity and confidence to dream big dreams. Successful leaders have the courage to attempt (and hopefully achieve) big goals. As Erma Bombeck reminds us, "It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else."
Author Jim Collins of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't found that great companies, organisations, and non-profits created what he called BHAGS - Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. Examples of BHAGs include putting a man on the moon, becoming #1 in the world, and ending world poverty. It's these challenging yet inspiring goals that cause people to dig deep and bring their best.

Do you have the courage to set some BHAGs for your team?

3. Courage to Try Something New

As a leader, you also must have the courage to forge ahead with no clear path, only your faith in the mission. Leaders are similar to ice breaking ships in that they must breakthrough challenges and obstacles in trying to lead their teams to explore unchartered territory.

Leaders must have the courage to deal with uncertainty. A phrase that many leaders can relate to is "building the bridge as you walk on it." Michigan professor Robert Quinn has a great book by the same title and says, "When we have a vision, it does not necessarily mean that we have a plan. We may know where we want to be, but we will seldom know the actual steps we must take to get there. We must trust in ourselves to learn the way, to build the bridge as we walk on it. When we pursue our vision, we must believe that we have enough courage and confidence in ourselves to reach our goal. We must leap into the chasm or uncertainty and strive bravely ahead... Trusting in our vision enough to start our journey into the chasm of uncertainty, believing that the resources will appear, can be very difficult. The fact that we have enough trust and belief in ourselves to pursue our vision is what signals to others that the vision is worth investing in."
Many times leaders must possess the courage to press on, even though they don't exactly know what is going to happen in the next minute, or if they will have the resources to do it. You must be willing and comfortable enough to venture into the unknown, trusting that you are heading in the right direction, making progress as you span the divide, and believe that the journey is worth it.

What new thing will you have the courage to try with your organisation?

4. Courage to Overcome the Doubts and Fears

When you try something new or attempt to do something that has never been done before, you will have many who will doubt you, dissuade you, and perhaps even chuckle at your naiveté. You too will have your doubts from time to time, but don't let them get you down. You must have the courage to overcome your doubters and detractors.

Social entrepreneur Bill Strickland writes in his great book Make the Impossible Possible: One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary , "I wanted to make a difference and change the world, starting with my neighbourhood. Just as important, I was trying as best I could to live a life that felt genuinely like my own, and to do that I had to own up to the passions that defined me. So I ignored the naysayers and found a way to reach higher. It was never easy, but the more I trusted my passions, the more I found reason to believe that following my dreams was the most practical thing I could do. Passion also forced me to develop the determination and perseverance I needed to keep those dreams alive when times got rough and the things I wanted seemed very far away. If my life has taught me anything, it's that no genuine success is possible without an intense, tireless, and focused sense of drive.

Do you have the courage to overcome all the naysayers?

5. Courage to Fail  

Leaders must have the courage to fail and fall short of their goals. When you put yourself out there as a leader, you take a risk that you might not achieve your ultimate goal. You must be willing to mentally, physically, and emotionally invest yourself fully. But you must also know that your intense effort is no guarantee that you will reach your destination.

Michael Jordan said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

And President Teddy Roosevelt reminds us, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Do you have the courage to fail?


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