A client has invited me to speak on the topic of “courageous leadership”. I’m looking forward to the event, and have ideas buzzing through my mind that will eventually form part of that presentation. I recently read “Courage is the Backbone of Leadership” where the author Gus Lee describes courage as one of three high core values: Integrity, Courage and Character.
But what is courage?
- Does courage mean you will stand between a child and an angry dog? maybe
- Does courage mean you will walk across the glass floor even if you suffer from vertigo? maybe
- Does courage mean you will take a stand when you observe something that is wrong? absolutely
Being courageous isn’t just about bravery. Courage can be physical courage; it can be mental courage, resiliancy; courage is the ability to withstand and overcome danger, fear, or difficulty.
In Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships I outline four tenets of an Ally Mindset. Courage & Vulnerability is one of those tenets. In an Ally relationship, we need courage to admit to our shortcomings and mistakes and be open to feedback. This means owning up to our fears or concerns, asking for help, and acting on that help when provided. Courage means speaking our truth and standing up for what we believe to be right, in a way that others can understand and support. Vulnerability is not about weakness; in fact, it takes real courage to be vulnerable. Vulnerability comes from the heart—it is a willingness to be our true selves, our best selves.
So why the post on courage?
I was at an event recently and noticed that participants were being invited to complete two statements:
“Great Leaders…” and “Worst Leaders…”
It was an interesting approach to start the conversation with attendees at the conference. I stopped to read what others had contributed. As I read there were themes emerging
Great leaders… coach others
Great leaders… provide feedback
Worst leaders… dictate
Worst leaders… don’t delegate
and then it hit me… someone had written the following
“Great Leaders… WOMEN” ”Worst Leaders… MEN”
Really?!? That was the most insightful comment someone could add? I literally felt sick to my stomach.
As a woman, when I am at my best I can be a great leader, however on my bad days (and we all have them) I can be the worst. I have worked for great and not so great leaders, men and women alike. I have already blogged on the topic “are women better leaders than men” and this comment, written for all to see, really, really bugged me. I stood and stared at it, incredulous. I talked to those around me and they too were shocked by the comments. All agreed that something should be done. No one moved.
I took action. I stood on the step stool (this comment was written 6ft high, for all to see) and changed it. When I stepped back it read:
“Great Leaders… WOMEN & MEN” ”Worst Leaders… MEN & WOMEN”
What happened next was the biggest surprise for me. One of the “owners of the activity” came up and thanked me for making the change. Apparently she and her colleagues had seen the comment, it had been added the day before, and had the same reaction as I did. However they did not feel able to change it. They had tolerated the comment for 24 hours; The (negative) reactions of visitors to their stand; The impact to their reputation because of another’s words. They had not felt empowered to take action. They lacked courage.
Courage happens in small acts. When you see something you disagree with step up and make a change. Be the change. Speak the change. Without you, without courage, intolerances persist. Without courage we avoid risk, and as a result reputations and success are impacted.