Growing in Courage

Growing in Courage

I hope you enjoyed the posting on using influence over authority. We also did a free webinar today on how a sustained leader is always a constant learner. You can catch replays of all the webinars from the website under the webinars tab. There is simply a wealth of information on the concept of sustained leadership and if you are serious about your leadership journey, I hope you will take advantage of all of this free information.

We continue today with our series on leadership lexicon – providing the meaning of the words we use to describe leadership. See earlier posts on Relationships, Responsibility, Small Talk, Networking, as well as being Transparent, Approachable, and Socially Adept, and yesterday’s post on Influence. Today I want to talk about leadership courage. In Sustained Leadership WBS I define it in this way:

WBS Dictionary: Courage is the ability to recognize your fears and take action anyway. It favors a bias for taking action (2.3). It does not mean that you have overcome all fears or that you act rashly; it simply means you have chosen not to let the fear control you and you act with due consideration of relevant factors. Many people fear failure and too often become paralyzed with fear and the result is that no action is taken at all. They are afraid to try for fear of failure. Fears come in many shapes and sizes; everyone has their fears. Most are rational (e.g. drowning, fires) while others are less so. Leaders demonstrate courage when dealing with risk (2.1.4), and in most cases it is not physical harm that is feared. It could be a particular business strategy. It could be a set of business tactics. It could involve a merger or a hiring/firing decision. It might be disagreement with the Board of Directors or with regulators. In some parts of the country, simply commuting to work takes courage. Taking foolish risks is not courage. It is foolishness. This element also includes having the courage of your convictions—knowing WHAT you believe and being able to articulate WHY you believe it. The sustained leader is disciplined in demonstrating courage of both actions and convictions.

Courage Reflects Balance

Courage occurs in that balance between legitimate fear and the desire to sometimes act rashly. Few situations are truly fight or flight situations. Real fear of bodily harm can give rise to quick responses. The sustained leader still never acts rashly, but with courage in the face of difficult situations. In The Search for Spock Star Trek movie, Captain Kirk destroys the Enterprise, along with some Klingon boarders, in order to allow his crew to still have a fighting chance. A rash move perhaps, but everything always works out for the good guy in the movies. Unfortunately we must live in this weird place called “real life.” Things do not always work out so well when we act rashly.

Should Courage be Uncomfortable?

There are variations of a similar quote that are variously attributed. Dale Partridge is quoted as saying, “You can be comfortable or courageous, but you cannot be both.” Bene Brown has reportedly said “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both!” Let’s unpack these concepts. Must courage be an uncomfortable act? I’m not convinced that it must.

Certainly some acts of courage, especially in business rather than life and death, will push you out of your comfort zone. This is where real growth occurs, so you can choose how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to tread. This does not mean that you have to feel out-of-control uncomfortable. I believe that you must continually take courageous steps outside of your comfort zone and eventually things that seemed to be extreme reaches become every day norms. I believe you can grow in courage.

Assessing Risk

Primarily you do this by becoming better and better at risk assessment. The sustained leader applies their situational awareness to the confirmed facts, and then chooses a course of action. Some of the choices might be considered “safe” and others more courageous. The largest rewards are not given for the safe choices. The largest punishments do seem to be given for the rash act that does not turn out with a movie happy ending. Sometimes the large gamble does pay off. That does not mean that the original risk was one worth taking, especially when the risk was going to fall to the innocent. Many major corporate moves have been made that rewarded the management team handsomely and ultimately led to the layoff of the entire workforce. That was not courage. That was greed.

Whether the error was in assessing the situation, assessing the risk, judging the possible outcomes, consideration of macroeconomics, or gauging market pressures, there should always be a fail safe for the most unfortunate of outcomes. Anything less reflects poor planning, weak thinking, and is lacking in compassion, another of the five major elements of sustained leadership.

Learning to Have Courage

You can learn to be more courageous. This does not mean that you will ever reach a point of mastery. As a constant learner the sustained leader will accept greater and greater challenges and not all of them will turn out exactly as planned. Over time the sustained leader adjusts and improves their assessments such that greater and greater positive outcomes and results will be achieved. The key is that if you never take any risks and insist on working solely within your comfort zone, you cannot build your courage. Start with small steps, and the concept of “small” is deeply personal. Do not allow others to dictate your comfort zone. You know its bounds better than anyone, so you decide what risks are acceptable.

Just don’t ever let your fear cause you to be unprepared to address a challenge with courage, or worse, leave you with no options other than a rash act. The odds will not be in your favor.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section Courage. Buy the book here

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With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.


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