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The Power of Emotional Courage

We are all in a season where everything has changed, whether we want to admit it or not. Many are struggling because of their great desire to hang on. The temptation is to hang on to the familiar, thinking that where we are leading will eventually return to what we knew before. That’s not going to happen, my friend. We need to develop new strategies, skills, habits, and more. You may even need to change your team or roles on your team. This is big, and we will not do it without emotional courage.


On any given day, most of us wrestle with our fears. The issues are different, but the wrestling is the same. We might be contemplating a career change, telling someone we love them, or wanting to speak up against injustice. But a defeating voice within us tells us that there’s no point, or that we aren’t really capable of being/doing what’s needed. Even if you call it by another name like anxiety, stress, discomfort, or life challenges, the cycle often plays out in the same way. We have a desire for change, but our fears can keep us stuck.


Courage is not a gift of birth that some people have and some don’t. With practice, it can become a habit. Usually, we think of habits as actions, like brushing your teeth or working out. But we also develop habits in the way we respond to different emotions. Our brains tend to seek the fastest, most efficient way to relieve stress, so we easily develop habits by relying on actions that have worked in the past, like perfectionism or procrastination. Your brain likes predictability, so it’s easy to return again and again.


You can manage fear differently if you choose different responses and develop courage. First of all, you need to address your inner critic. It feeds us misinformation and tells us we are doomed to fail. We may not even be aware of it, or we just stuff it down. Instead, we must follow through with willingness to feel the hard feelings that come when we take risks, break old patterns, and try new ways of acting.


Leadership is hard in a very practical way. It’s about consistently and courageously achieving what is most important by building bridges, taking risks, showing up in critical situations with confidence, inspiring commitment in others with your own, responding productively to opposition, and working with difficult people. Emotional courage is the only thing that will enable you to do this and more.


Developing courage is likely the single, most important characteristic for changing your life impact. Courage means the willingness to "look in the mirror" and acknowledge aspects of yourself that you may not know about or may not like. Courage allows you to explore your inner world and not run from what you learn about yourself. Courage enables you to reject your old ways and then cut a new path.


Courage also provides the commitment you need to start and the conviction to continue. Courage enables you to make difficult choices to do what is in your best interests however uncomfortable it might initially make you feel. It is courage that enables you to let go of the familiar comfort of your past life and grab on to the hope of a new and better way.


Courage makes you able to embrace the values that are important, to act in ways that strengthens rather than undermines your self-esteem. You are now able to take ownership of your life and assume responsibility for everything you do—the mistakes and failures and the achievements and successes. Courage enables you to unashamedly accept all of your emotions.


Having the courage to begin the process of changing your life is like a bucket of cold water in your face at first. It will be uncomfortable, and you will not like it. But eventually you begin to adapt, and the pain turns to invigoration.


“Emotional courage is the ability to feel absolutely everything and then make a smart choice about what to do next.” – Peter Bregman


It only takes one to two seconds for your instant emotional reaction to be overcome by your rational thinking. You can choose to feel what you are feeling and then act correctly. Emotional courage leads to freedom.


Often your first and most comfortable reaction is anger. Think of anger as data—it’s you giving yourself feedback about what’s happening around you. When you are angry, ask yourself, “What is the outcome I want in this situation?” The why is super important! Emotional courage will teach you to resist instant urges.


You can learn to coach yourself through an obstacle:

1 – Take a breath

2 – Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?”

3 – Determine, “What is the outcome I want in this moment?”

4 – Decide, “What is the thing I can do in this moment that is most likely going to get me to the outcome I want?”


You DO have the opportunity to lead; to show up with confidence, connected to others, and committed to a purpose in a way that inspires others to follow. Maybe it’s in your workplace or in your relationships or simply in your own life.


“But great leadership—leadership that aligns teams, inspires action, and achieves results—is hard. And what makes it hard is practical. It’s not about knowing what to say or do. It’s about whether you’re willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it. In other words, the most critical challenge of leadership is emotional courage. If you are willing to feel everything, you can do anything.” – Peter Bergman.


Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work, by Peter Bergman, is the source of most of the information in this blog. It provides practical, real-world advice for building your emotional courage muscle. I highly recommend it.


Theoretically, leadership is straightforward, but how many people actually lead? The gap between theory and practice is huge. Emotional courage is what bridges that gap. It’s what sets great leaders apart from the rest. It gets results. Get the book and get started.

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