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Courageous Leadership

Aristotle called courage the first virtue because it makes all the other virtues possible.Leadership frequently requires making unpopular decisions, and this requires a certain level of bravery. The tenuous state of our world has multiplied fear, and fear has sent many organizational cultures into a downward spiral. We have a desperate need for courageous leaders. Susan Tardanico (CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance and Executive in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership) says that demonstrating courageous leadership, whether it's having an uncomfortable conversation, communicating when you don't have all the answers, or making a decision to move ahead on a new project, is precisely the kind of behavior that fosters trust and sets a crucial example for others to follow at a time when they'd rather hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

She wisely defines 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders:

  1. Confront reality head on. Get the real facts. Only by knowing the true current state can you lead your team to a better place.

  2. Seek feedback and listen. We all have blind spots that impact the way we interact with others. Authentic feedback is not always easy to hear, but listening and acting can move your forward dramatically.

  3. Say what needs to be said. Real conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if conflict is involved. But these crucial conversations mean having the courage to put your opinions on the table, even if they are unpopular.

  4. Encourage pushback. Leaders can feel pressure to have all the answers. By encouraging healthy debate, you reinforce the strength of the team and demonstrate that a better answer comes from diverse opinions.

  5. Act on performance issues. Confronting people issues is hard. That’s why many leaders ignore them until they become a toxic threat to the team or company’s performance. By taking swift action to reassign or exit underperforming employees, you are helping yourself, the team, and organization.

  6. Communicate openly and frequently. Keep the lines of communication open, even when you don’t know all the answers. Use straight-talk and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Share information.

  7. Lead change. Fear leads us to keep things the way they are. Picture a better way, approach it with determination and an open mind, know it will be messy and a mid-course correction may be necessary. Remember that you need to bring people along.

  8. Make decisions and move forward. Especially in environments of fear and intense change, it feels unsafe to commit to a decision and move ahead. Avoid analysis paralysis and make the decision.

  9. Give credit away. Let go of the need for praise and instead give the credit to those around you. Remember that a good leader takes more than their fair share of the blame and less than their fair share of the credit.

  10. Hold people (and yourself) accountable. Expect people to perform and deliver on their commitments and have courage to call them out when they don’t follow through. Remember that accountability begins with you—modeling the behaviors you expect of others.

This kind ofcourageous leadership is what every employee hopes for and what every company needs. We could sort the visible acts of courageous leadership into three categories:


Try Courage: Try courage is the courage required to take the first step in something. You might fail, you might get it wrong, or you might do something completely incredible.


Trust Courage: This is the type of courage required to relinquish control. This courage delegates to your employees, gives over control to staff, and shows your team that you trust them.


Tell Courage: Tell courage is the courage you need to speak openly and with conviction about your beliefs and ideas. Courageous leadership means providing your team with positive and constructive feedback on a regular basis, even if what you have to say is going to make someone feel uncomfortable.


You will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Courageous leaders can push through uncomfortable situations. They are willing to make difficult decisions and do not back down when things get hard.


You will have to admit when you have made a mistake. Ego and pride must not be present in your leadership style. Own up to your errors so that you can correct them. Demonstrate to your staff that you are strong enough to continue learning and leading, and turn errors into opportunities.


You will have to stand behind and with employees. You know your mistakes and grow and learn through them; they can too. Build a team where they know that they are trusted and that if something goes wrong, you’ll be in their corner.


You will need to have courage to change direction when it is indicated. Courageous, well-led companies can change direction on short notice.When you are faced with the need to change, you need to be courageous about taking the next step. Weak leaders doubt their choices, they fear change, and they worry. Eventually, their team will see this. If they perceive you don’t believe in your own changes, how will they believe?


You will have to establish higher standards. As a leader, you need to set up personal standards for yourself to reach your full potential. By demonstrating this to your employees, you encourage them to reach their full potential too.


You must have the courage to remove yourself from bad situations. Sometimes, the most courageous thing a leader can do is to leave a toxic work environment. If you have done all that you can to lead a company to a better place, but still no one follows, it may be time to take your leadership elsewhere. Knowing when it’s time to move on when you have reached your highest potential at your current job, and then doing it, is an incredibly courageous act.Courageous leadership sets the stage for progress and confidence.It will take courage to step out of your comfort zone and lead from a place of confidence. That’s how you leave an impact and change the world for good.

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