Courage: An Important Ingredient in Leadership
The word courage comes from a Latin root cor- which means heart. How commonly do we hear people say, “listen to your heart and it will guide you.” I believe there is some truth to this statement. Too often, we ignore our gut feelings that are telling us that something is wrong. Listening to your heart is not easy, but when you do, it will open new doors and opportunities. As Brené Brown says, "We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than un-evolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear."
Despite our fears, courage provides us with the strength to move outside of our comfort zone. Courage allows us to move into the unknown. Moving to this unknown place can sometimes feel intimidating, as there are no guarantees. It is like developing a new climbing route up a mountain, which some climbers describe as exhilarating. They accept the risks, yet they remain focused on the possible reward.
A good friend of mine once told me that it takes as much courage to stay in a job that is not working well, as it does to leave it. Both situations involve venturing into the unknown. Will the situation get better over time and create a feeling of happiness and fulfillment, or will leaving your job provide an exciting new beginning? As Diane de Poitiers said, “Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope; in the one case we have nothing to lose, in the other, everything to gain.” It took me some time to understand that there is truth in what my friend was telling me. It does take courage to live with your heart as your guide.
In certain professions, courage is required on a daily basis. These professionals accept the dangers associated with their job, and are willing to move into the unknown to serve others. They accept the challenge of the unknown and focus on the reward. During the pandemic - frontline workers, EMS professionals and so many others who are providing services to citizens are taking risks. Each day they climb a different route, tethered to uncertainty, in their selfless quest to serve others.
More than ever, our global leaders also need courage and a moral compass to guide them. We are living in uncertain times and our leaders require courage to make tough decisions, but equally important is having the courage to admit when they have made poor decisions or mistakes. However, doing so requires a degree of self-awareness. Sadly, many of our leaders have grown self-absorbed as a result of their position and status, so much so that they lose perspective. The inflation of their ego interferes with their ability to lead effectively and make courageous decisions for the greater good.
When leaders find themselves in situations conflicting with their heart, it can be debilitating. Regardless of your political views, what we have witnessed in the United States in the recent presidential election was a perfect example of the fear within politicians of their leader and their unwillingness or inability to oppose him. It takes tremendous courage to stand up to a leader that uses bullying tactics to control his or her party. It took great courage for Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan, a two-term Republican who voted for President Trump, to announce he would sever his ties with the Republican Party over its refusal to accept the president’s recent election defeat. “If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was ‘the most secure in American history,’ our nation will be damaged,” Mr. Mitchell wrote. The world needs more individuals like Paul Mitchell, who had courage to stand up and oppose his leader for the greater good of democracy.
In the end, I believe we need courage each and every day, but acting courageously requires confidence, focus and a commitment to move into the unknown. It can be as simple as speaking up when we see an injustice. As Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak: courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”