WANTED: Courageous Leaders [Not heroes]
by Abbey Johnston | March 1, 2021
Originally featured in The West Coast Way, March 2021
For a long time, I assumed courage was reserved for comic books and activists. Conveniently, this assumption moved courage out of my reach and responsibility. The call to bravery and courage given only to the elite chosen few. After leading hundreds of people through the Dare to Lead™ program, I know I am not unique in this assumption. It is a hardwired belief for many. This belief, however, is wrong.
Courage is the ability to do something that frightens us. I would add, courage is also the ability to do something even (and especially) if it is uncomfortable. Humans are like moths to a flame when it comes to comfort. It’s part of our wiring and it prevents us from the critical work of transforming our leadership, teams, and organizations.
The good news? Courage is a muscle and we all have it.
It’s not a characteristic reserved for the chosen few. It’s a practice, a choice, something we can get better at. Courage is available in abundance to everone brave enough to flex and build it. When we choose to embrace discomfort in service of courage, we give others permission to do the same. Courage is contagious.
Based on Brené Brown’s research, organizations lacking courage exhibit certain problematic behaviors. They avoid tough conversations (aka – Michigan Nice), ignore fears and feelings, get stuck in setbacks, lack innovation, ignore the vital work of equity and inclusion, use shame and blame as management tools, and promote perfectionism. Amongst these, avoiding tough conversations leads the pack.
Let’s pause here.
Take a breath and a quick inventory.
Are people in your organization having tough, hard, vulnerable, and important conversations?
Are they avoiding them?
What are the outcomes and ripple effects of this?
Organizations are desperate for leaders who are afraid but willing to do the right thing anyway. We are yearning for people who are able to sit in their discomfort to give honest feedback, challenge the status quo, own mistakes and clean them up. We are longing for these leaders and we are these leaders. You are that leader. For our world to change we need YOUR courageous leadership.
This means it’s time to skill-build.
Dare to Lead™ takes participants through the four skill-sets of building courage.
- Rumbling with Vulnerability. This is a biggie. If courage is the ability to act in spite of fear and discomfort, we have to learn how to embrace things that involve risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure.
- Living our Values. This is individual and collective. If we are going to be courageous – we need to be clear on what is worthy of our discomfort.
- Braving Trust. When trust is high in relationships and organizations, so is courage. Trust expands the playing field for courage and builds in teammates you didn’t know you had.
- Learning to Rise. In Rising Strong, Brené says, “If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall.” To be courageous means we will get knocked down. Getting back up is imperative.
Building courage is life work.
We don’t ever fully arrive. I can say with confidence that the messy pursuit of courage will be the most powerful pursuit of your life. Courage brings a life of integrity, meaning, and fulfillment. Leading with courage will revolutionize your relationships, teams and organizations. For this new year, filled with so much hope, I dare you to join me in my clumsy but important journey towards courage.