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.
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
Notice that this definition didn’t say that courage is an absence of fear. That’s reserved for superheros in comic books. In reality, courage is the ability to withstand fear, and do something anyway. There are no shortage of things that can make a leader feel anxiety or fear or to doubt their own abilities. I mean for heaven’s sake, they are the ones steering the ship. That’s a big deal. And it can be scary at times. But the best leaders understand that they can’t allow fear and anxiety to cripple them. They are simply hurdles that need to be overcome, nothing more.
Choose What is Right, Not What is Easy
Leaders face decisions almost every minute of every day. Most of these aren’t monumental decisions, but they all contain an important decisions within the decision. The decision of whether to do what is right, or to do what is easy. Seldom is the right decision the easiest one. Doing what is right, despite the challenges it may entail, requires courage at its most basic level. Leaders have to be comfortable with the likelihood that some decisions they make are not going to be liked by everyone. They aren’t in the people-pleasing business, they are there to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the company. 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.