Courage is the most important leadership skill you can have. Without it, you can’t lead. Those who fail to develop a courageous muscle through actions big or small aren’t inspiring and aren’t worth following.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Lewis got it right because every skill a leader needs to possess will meet its testing point at courage.
However, the value of courage is consistently overlooked. Part of this is because when we first think of courage, we tend to think of heroic acts like landing a plane on the Hudson or saving a company going up in flames. Right behind heroic acts, courage is often thought of as an attribute that only a few extraordinary leaders possess because they are born with it.
While these are widely popular views of courage, it is a far cry from how it’s leveraged by leaders daily. Most courageous acts are small, but they are never insignificant.
Most courageous acts are small, but they are never insignificant.
Small courageous acts stacked upon each other add up. It’s having a crucial conversation, even when it’s inconvenient. It’s doing the right thing, especially when it’s not easy. It’s trying again right after failing.
I define courage in Building the Best as the “ability to do something that frightens you.” It comes from the Latin word cor, meaning heart. Courage comes from the heart. In other words, acting from your heart and doing things that frighten you is a sign of leadership.
What Happens When You’re Courageous
When you have yet to make many courageous decisions in your life or career, it’s tempting to believe you are just not a fearless leader. Instead, reject this negative thinking with all your might.
Neuroscience research suggests that some people innately possess a thrill-seeking or “Type T” personality, courage is still required to act whether you are wired with higher risk tolerance levels or not. Courage is a skill that anyone can develop.
In coaching leaders with different experience levels and industries, one thing always happens when leaders are courageous. They create clarity in the future.
Clarity in the Future
One of the things many professionals are struggling with right now is clarity in their journey. There is so much uncertainty and doubt surrounding us right now; it has many questioning their purpose and pathway. Ironically, when you are frightened and decide to do something anyway, it creates clarity, not confusion. It shows us that we are on the right or wrong path, whereas if we did not act, we would remain stuck in the same place, filled with uncertainty.
Leaders Who Act Courageously Create Clarity, Not Confusion
While we aspire to have clarity as quickly as possible, it is also true that the clarity we want may not find us at our own timeline but later. However, it should provide confidence to know that when you choose courage, you are on the path toward clarity.
How to Be More Courageous
Since courage is essential in leadership and provides significant upside, we must work hard to exercise it. Here are a few of the strategies I have seen be effective:
- Write Down the Worst Possible Outcome. Our brains are fascinating because we have an almond-shaped mass called an Amygdala. This part of our brain has become best known for its role in fear processing. This means that this area in our brain controls fear and our responses to it. You are naturally wired to run from or avoid things that can be harmful. Getting in the habit of writing down the worst possible outcome from acting on something that frightens you often provides insight that the worst scenario isn’t actually all that bad.
- Quantify the Best Possible Outcome. Since our brains constantly evaluate either the pain or gain in every situation, highlighting the benefits of courageous leadership is a powerful method to encourage action. Regardless if the end outcome meets or even exceeds our expectations, the practice of allowing your brain to visualize the possible benefits in a situation is a decisive step in the process of being more courageous.
- Lean Into the Emotions. Acting as if emotions such as doubt or fear do not exist is a false path to courage. Being open and honest about your emotions is not a weakness; it is a strength. Dr. Susan David a leading expert on the topics of Toxic Positivity and emotions, said, “Emotions are data, not directives. We get to choose who we want to be; our emotions don’t.” The wisdom in Dr. David’s words can’t be overstated. Allow yourself to experience the emotions that would cause you not to act courageously and then decide to move forward despite them when it makes sense.
“Emotions are data, not directives. We get to choose who we want to be; our emotions don’t.”
The better you get at acting as a courageous leader, the easier it will be to set your fear aside and lead people, teams, and organizations to a better place than they are today. To quote the great Nelson Mandela, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.