The Courage We're Missing From Our Leaders

We like leaders with courage. We don't typically follow the meek. Unfortunately companies overemphasize some courages and ignore those that are perhaps most important.

The courage we have

Most leaders exemplify the courage to do the things below. 

Take a stand

Taking a stand is important. It means that despite pressures, you stick to your beliefs and will not be moved. Th image I have of this is a tree, it bends, bows, and flutters, but it stays rooted in the spot it picked to grow. People can be like that. They can bend, and bow, flutter, grow, give shelter, a place to play, and even feed others...but you can't do that if you don't have roots. It takes courage to stand your ground amidst the storms.

Speak out

Speaking up for what you know is right in the odds of unpopular opinion is also important. This is slightly more vulnerable than simply taking a stand and remaining tethered to your principles. This one is slightly less common than the first simply because it puts you in the line of fire. Not only are you taking a stand, but you are vocal about it. You have stepped into the fight in a very active way.

Try New Approaches

Trying things that are unproven is risky. We are programmed to avoid risk as a species, it's what has kept us alive for our 200,000 year history - avoiding risk. Ironically, though, it is in risk that we have learned to flourish as a species. Trying new things, exploring new realms, finding new ways to do things. That has not come without collateral damage but by and large, progress is built on taking risks. And it takes courage to be the one trying something new. This too, is in shorter supply than taking a stand, or speaking out.

How those can be faked

While insecure people can look immobile on the surface and seems to stand their ground, they only do so when others are standing. This can mask as courage, but it's really standing in the shelter of the other trees. 

Speaking up with uncontroversial opinions or speaking up agains those who have no power in the first place is false bravado. It doesn't take any courage to echo the room more loudly, it just takes volume.

Trying new things is contextual. It doesn't make you an innovator if you implement a "best practice." You're not trying anything new, your just introducing new people to something old. That doesn't take a lot of courage, it just take research and copying.

Courage that can't be faked

Asking for Feedback

Asking people for feedback is tough. It put you out there and opens you up to the potential that you have made a mistake, or you are not as good as you think you are. Either way, it can be hard to hear.

Listening to feedback

This takes courage. Listening to feedback is hard. It's vulnerable. You have to let down your guard and your defenses to allow feedback in. 65% of US employees would rather have a better boss than a pay raise. That means a lot of managers are not getting the feedback they need and probably even fewer are actually doing something about it.

Making your feedback visible

Letting people see the feedback you get takes an immense amount of courage. Or at the very least, letting people know what feedback you have heard is pretty open. What I find funny about this particular piece of courage is, you're not telling anyone something they didn't already know. What is more likely is YOU were the only one who didn't know. So really sharing the feedback is not that revealing, but it certainly feels that way.

You can't fake vulnerability and asking for, listening to, and presenting your own feedback is vulnerable. Ironically, displays of real courage are most impressive during times of heightened vulnerability.

Bravado is not courage.

Bravado is just another piece of armor. Real courage is standing in front of the crowd without armor. Without your defenses. Asking for real feedback, showing people your areas of growth, and then doing something different to make yourself better. We all want to focus on our strengths and despite his strengths. Focusing on strengths make us feel good. However, despite his strengths, Goliath had weaknesses that took him down. None of us are perfect and it is time leaders stop pretending to be.

Asking for feedback, really listening to it, and letting other know you heard them and plan to make things better is courageous. It is hard, and it is necessary. 

That is courage. And that is what we need more of in leadership.

Dave NeedhamComment