Courage is the intangible leadership quality of which greatness is made. It is demonstrated when a person endures severe pressure, conflict or adversity with grace and dignity. All exceptional leaders seem to have their fair share of it.
How does someone acquire courage? There is no simple formula for doing so. Nevertheless, I have come to the conclusion that an individual’s continued courage under trying circumstances comes from spiritual strength. As Cicero said, “A man of courage is also full of faith.” Those who believe in God are better able to face adversity straight on and inspire others by doing so.
Let us look at some of the ways leaders demonstrate their inner strengths.
First, they do not suffer from the crippling need to be loved by everyone. For example, they are not afraid to say “no” to unreasonable requests and demands placed on them and to take positions on issue of importance. When such issues arise, courageous leaders do not remain on the sidelines by keeping quiet. Instead, they strongly express their opinions. Though they may be disliked and ridiculed from time to time, they continue to stand up for their beliefs.
Second, leaders have the courage to pick themselves up after defeat and work even harder than before. Successfully leading an organization every day is a tough game. You do not always meet your objectives. Occasionally you will get in hot water with your boss or colleagues. Even those with a high batting average are going to strike out periodically.
I have never known a successful business leader who did not have at least one incident of serious failure in his or her career. Good leaders have the courage to take risks, to face failure and to learn from each mistake. When failure is viewed from this perspective, it becomes a stepping stone to the future.
People generally do not learn much from their success; they learn more from their mistakes. They gain new insights and perspectives about themselves by reflecting on what they did wrong and how they can improve in the future.
Third, leaders have the courage to face inevitable conflict openly and head on. Whenever strong-willed people interact on a frequent basis, there will be occasional disagreements and conflict. The effective leader recognizes that this is a fact of life and does not shy away from conflict because of the tension and stress involved.
Occasionally, some conflict is necessary in an organization to get things moving – to obtain action where there are bureaucratic road blocks or procrastination. This principle can perhaps be explained the analogy: “A little friction is often needed to get traction.” The trick is to keep the conflict controlled so as not to create warring factions that undermine cooperation.
Fourth, leaders have the courage and strength to bear their burdens.
Finally, leaders have the courage to adapt and change as conditions and situations merit.
This is not an easy task for leaders who have been successful over the years by doing things their own way. The reasoning of such people goes something like this: “Why change? I’ve been successful in the past.” Still as everyone knows, success is fleeting in our rapidly changing business environment. What was appropriate a few years ago may not work today.
There is another reason why people fail to adapt and change: most of us prefer the established routine. We are all creatures of comfort. We like the familiar because we can count on it. Surprises are uncomfortable, and change creates uncertainty. This leads to tension and stress.
In this article leaders courage was identified as a person’s perseverance and determination when faced with adversity or an unusual challenge. Such courage is demonstrated in many ways, such as:
- Being able to say “no” and take position on important issues,
- Responding to defeat by trying even harder and smarter
- Facing conflict openly and head on,
- Bearing one’s burdens and
- Adapting to change.