A Little Secret About Courage

Courage is a favorite topic when experts write about leadership. Often the kind of courage they write about is the big, bold stuff of legends: climbing Mount Everest and leading the team down safely in intrepid weather; safely landing a plane on the Hudson River; turning a company around against long odds.

I can’t deny that this kind of courage inspires me. However, there is another kind that inspires even more. It’s behind the scenes – and we tend to miss it. It doesn’t get headlines. It is not considered big, bold, or legendary. But yet it is HUGE in terms of transforming your leadership.

Before I describe this kind of courage, let’s consider that the word “courage” comes from the French word for “heart”. This kind of quiet, invisible courage is the kind that I am blessed to observe in the best leaders through the work we do, and it comes from the heart. And not coincidentally, it is this type of courage that encourages a leader to create and sustain the relationships required to do the big, bold stuff of legends.

What is this type of courage?

So what is this “type of courage”? Are you ready? The quiet, hidden courage that I am speaking of is the courage to look at oneself and make the changes necessary to be a legendary leader. Seems kind of anti-climactic compared to landing a plane on the Hudson.

But yet – I know leaders (and you do too) who are in self-denial about their bad or mediocre behavior. Or others who are unwilling to take a look at themselves through reflection, assessments or feedback from others.

Courage to look at yourself sustains you for the big stuff

Choosing the path of leadership is a personal (as well as professional) journey. It requires a great deal of toughness, persistence, and heart to make it work. It is a never ending path that takes ongoing learning, including some of the hardest lessons imaginable; sometimes against all odds. The best leaders know themselves well, and this knowing gets them through the tough times.

I’ll bet that Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the courageous pilot who landed the plane on the Hudson, has done the courageous work of introspection. I’d wager a bet that he’s had the courage to look at and understand his strengths and gaps. I’m willing to bet that knowing those strengths and gaps were instrumental in his ability to stay calm and to save many lives.

So choose the leadership path with care. It isn’t easy. In order to be great at it, you must look inside and do the inner work required. And this requires great courage (the quiet kind).

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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