Leading with Courage

Leadership is not for the faint of heart; in fact, it can feel absolutely terrifying. Executive leaders regularly make decisions that affect the entire organization and have long-reaching consequences on future company strategy and financial success.  Often, leaders have to make decisions in the moment and may not have the time necessary to thoroughly weigh the options. Even when leaders are given the facts and shown multiple options, there is rarely one clear or “correct” decision. Leaders, instead, must be willing to take managed risks and have the courage to make the best decision to move the business forward.

This type of decision making equates to a lot of pressure to make the right choice the first time.  Some leaders may feel pressured into the quick, easy and popular response, while others may face analysis paralysis: the inability to make a decision due to over-analyzing data or overthinking a problem. So, what does it mean to lead with courage? How can leaders feel confident in their decision? And most importantly, how can leaders get their team to feel that same confidence in their direction?

There are thousands of theories on the best leadership traits and skills, however, there is no one-size fits all strategy and thankfully there are many individualized routes to success. Regardless of what “makes a great leader”, COURAGE is the one common trait that I’ve witnessed during my twenty-plus years spent supporting executive leaders. Courageous leadership can be displayed in many ways; standing up for your convictions, encouraging others to express contrary points of view, taking personal responsibility for company mistakes, sharing credit for accomplishments, addressing problems quickly and directly, consistently challenging the status quo, etc…  But, acting with courage is difficult.  You must be the trailblazer and the decision maker, the team cheerleader and nurturer. You have to have broad shoulders to bear the weight of failures and the giving spirit to share the wins. You have to understand that you may not be appreciated and may be unpopular. You also must be brave enough to know all of these things and still choose to lead.

Having the confidence to believe that you are qualified to make the tough decisions doesn’t come easily. You need to put the time and work into understanding the business’ needs. You need to work diligently to build relationships and put together a team to support common goals. Ideally, you would have the opportunity to mentor with other leaders to understand the role that you play in the success of your organization.. No matter how you get there however, confidence will be gained with each win and each loss along the way.

Additionally, creating an environment of respect, dignity and professionalism is mandatory for courageous leadership. Courageous leaders know that they don’t have all the answers and understand the importance of collaboration and an open exchange of ideas. They take care to express disagreement constructively and maintain an open door to listen to comments, suggestions and ideas of others, regardless of title, tenure or experience. Courageous leaders take pride in the success of their team members and publicly recognize and acknowledge the contributions of others. By creating a culture of openness and mutual respect, it is much easier for leaders to communicate common goals and gain support for their ideas.

Courageous leadership comes in many different forms; it can be loud and on display or soft and behind the scenes. During times of uncertainty, courage can be the difference between calm and chaos.  So choose courage!  Take managed risks!  Be decisive and have faith in yourself!  Surround yourself with a supportive team and you can do great things!

Written by Sara Beth Young, Director of Employee Relations