How To Be a Courageous Leader

how to be a courageous leader

What do we think of when we envision the ideal leader? Maybe they are the one who has all the answers, the one who everyone goes to. Or maybe they’re cool under pressure, you never see them sweat. They’re definitely super confident and in control of everything. Doesn’t that resonate well in the perfect-world scenario we like to create for ourselves? That’s definitely what I thought leadership was, back when I was brand new and thought I knew everything. It’s also complete bulldookey.

How To Be a Courageous Leader


There is certainly no shortage of leadership books and resources out there. The tricks of the trade, as it were. But beyond all the sexy quotes and the book-smart lessons, the best leaders out there have one simple thing in common: courage. And not in the puffed up way that some of our current so-called leaders behave (not mentioning any names…). That’s egomania, not courage.

Real courage doesn’t mean having all the answers, or always being right, or not being unsure of a decision. Personally, I love the Merriam-Webster definition: Courage – Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Let’s pick this apart and talk about what this means to us in the leader’s chair.

Recognize That Fear is a Hurdle

The absence of fear was not stated in this definition of courage. That belongs to comic book superheroes. In actuality, courage is the capacity to confront fear head-on and take action. There are several causes that can cause a leader to experience dread, anxiety, or self-doubt. For goodness sake, they are in charge of operating the ship. That is significant. And at times, it can be frightful. However, the most effective leaders are aware that they cannot let their fear and anxiety overcome them. They are nothing more than obstacles that must be surmounted.

Choose What is Right, Not What is Easy

Every minute of every day, decisions must be made by leaders. The majority of these choices aren’t huge ones, but they all have crucial choices embedded inside them. choose between doing what is right and doing what is easy. The proper choice is rarely the simplest. At its core, courage is the ability to act honorably in the face of difficulties. Leaders need to feel at ease with the possibility that not everyone may agree with every decision they make. They work to make decisions that are in the best interests of the firm; they are not in the people-pleasing business. Steve Jobs summed this up very well: “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.” Steve understood that some decisions, even the ones that are in the best interest of the company, won’t be liked. The best leaders have the fortitude to do it anyway.

Keep Moving Forward

The best leaders understand that without progress, there is stagnation and eventual death of the business. Status quo always loses in the end. And that drives them to always be looking forward to new ideas and new ventures. But there are no lone wolfs in the leader’s chair. The best ones understand that it takes a team to accomplish these things. They also understand that their team members need to be empowered to push the envelope, suggest ideas, be the subject matter experts. The accomplishment of a goal is never about the leader, it’s about the team.

Know That It’s Not About You

Herein lies the greatest need for courage. And that’s the courage to put yourself second. The people who wind up in leadership positions usually don’t start there. They are part of the rank and file. They work themselves up through growth. For years, they dream about finally gaining that coveted seat. They pour themselves into making this happen. Finally it’s their time to be tapped as a leader, and… reality check. This is a tough lesson for new leaders to learn. Because from a team member’s perspective, they look up to their leaders, and they place a value on those position titles. So when it’s time for them to move up, that assumption tends to hold. It’s important that new leaders have a mentor that can help them gain insight into these nuances that may not be self-evident to them at the time.

Bottom line, courage doesn’t get much airtime in the leadership circle, but it’s immensely important. Here’s the good news… like the Cowardly Lion learned in Wizard of Oz, you don’t have to look very far to find your courage. It’s already inside of you. It’s inside of all of us. We just need to learn to quiet the little voices in our heads, telling us we aren’t good enough, aren’t prepared enough, aren’t strong enough. When we have the courage to put those voices aside, we will find a limitless supply of tenacity, perseverance, and strength.

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Keith Enochs

Keith Enochs is an HR-Training Manager in Lancaster, PA. He is also a blogger in the areas of leadership, communication, and culture. He is the founder of WorkingTitleHR. Find him on Twitter and Linkedin.


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