Courage has many faces. It doesn’t always show up complete with epaulets and a shiny sword yelling “Charge!!” In fact, I would suggest it more often demands a much subtler approach. Either way, courage is not something we can buy or fake. It lives in the heart of our character. And, it is something we hope to have enough of when we need it most.
Brave leaders go first and inspire others to find their own courage. They defy convention. They admit their mistakes, apologize and make amends when they are wrong. Brave leaders explore unknown territory in service of something greater than themselves. They deliver bad news with clarity, determination and compassion. And, they stay the course when the going gets tough
Brave leaders, too, frequently look in their personal, and organizational mirrors to find something in themselves or in the systems they create that works against their potential for achieving their goals. This calls for a special kind of courage, one that can feel less noble than the others. But workplaces have little hope of thriving long if this work goes unattended or is swept under the rug in hopes that no one will notice.
Here’s a case in point. Some time ago, I met with a friend, a niche specialist in communication. She shared this story with me:
On being invited to meet with the CEO of a company to discuss business opportunities, she entered the premises and almost immediately detected a certain tension in the air. And, while people were impeccably polite to her, she noticed that throughout the office, no one was smiling.
The CEO, a clever and efficient woman, appeared to have all the hallmarks of a successful business leader. At some point in the conversation, she asked my friend if she did other communications work because she had noticed that the e-mails being passed among her staff and out to customers had a tone that seemed terse and unwelcoming. The CEO asked my friend if she could possibly fix that with some communications training.
Of course, my friend, a smart and intuitive woman herself, knew all too well where this conversation was headed. Could she ‘fix’ the tone of the emails being sent from this office? Yes, she could do that. The bigger question…why people were writing snarky emails went unanswered. It could be that this CEO had no idea why but, when pressed, she also was not willing to ‘go there’
This is not an unfamiliar story. In fact, I would hazard to say that more companies than we’d like to think spend inordinate amounts of time and money addressing unpleasant symptoms if only to be able to say they are doing something to improve their employee, and by association, customer experience.
We know of course that underneath it all lurk many cans of worms and a few Pandora’s Boxes that need opening before anything can be truly resolved. This is where that special kind of courage comes in. It is the kind that asks us to face our imperfect selves; to find our humility and to lay ourselves open to closer examination.
When I think about courage in leadership, this quote comes to mind,
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. “ ~ Ambrose Redmoon
Good leadership is about focusing on what’s really important among other things. Sometimes that means having the courage to relentlessly pursue truth, even at the cost of personal pride, in service of building something everyone can be proud of.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?
Note: This post was originally published in August, 2012