Courage, The Most Important Leadership Virtue
When’s the last time you felt uncomfortable as a leader? It’s probably a question you haven’t been asked before but the answer speaks to the quality and impact of your leadership. Because when you accept the invitation to be a real leader, you are accepting the condition of feeling uncomfortable. Every single day. At the basic level the definition of a leader is someone who goes first. A leader forges a path forward and inspires people to follow. Twenty years ago this task was simpler but in today’s complex, fast changing and unpredictable work environment, this takes courage. In today’s environment there is no leadership rule book. In fact we are the first generation of leaders to be leading in such disruptive times. Never before in the history of leadership has this type of environment been navigated.
Leaders of today are writing the rule book for the future. They are leading in an environment where you often can’t see the destination. All you have is a flashlight that reveals a couple of metres ahead. And that’s uncomfortable. Because your brain craves the certainty. Like most leaders today you will have tough decisions. And sometimes these decisions impact negatively on people you care about, and even yourself. And that’s hard. Even coming up with new ideas can push you out of your comfort zone because you risk failing. Building relationships, an important part of a leader’s job also comes with the risk of being rejected. That feels uncomfortable too.
Aristotle said that courage is the first of human qualities because it’s the quality that guarantees the others. Without courage you can’t make a difference. Without courage you can’t have the right conversations that lead to change. Without courage you won’t even get off the starting block as a leader. But it’s how you show courage that’s the important point here. For some leaders in the past courage has meant showing up in their armour, protecting and perfecting. That’s not courage, that’s hiding. And people don’t connect with a leader like that. Rather courage is acting in the face of fear. Sitting with the discomfort but working through it, not around it. Showing up fiercely and completely, bringing your vulnerabilities, imperfections and inadequacies, but not being driven by them. We all have this capability inside us but it’s often not expressed at work. But it’s come to the forefront in some area in your life whether that be standing at the top of a ski slope wondering how you’ll make it down or waiting for a phone call from a loved one with news of a health crisis. We all have courage and need to bring this attribute to the workplace.
In times of change leaders need the courage to persist. To stand up again after a knock back or to find another way after a path has been closed off. They need the courage to think differently. And they need the courage to have the difficult conversations they have been avoiding.
Courage and comfort will never be friends. If you are comfortable, chances are you aren’t learning, growing or forging a new path. If you are comfortable you are probably not really leading. So say yes to something that makes you uncomfortable every single day. It might be a project that you would normally say you are too busy for. Or it may be as simple as sitting in the front row when your preference is for the back. Because when you say yes to discomfort, you are saying yes to true leadership. When you say yes to courage, you are saying yes to your team. And most importantly when you say yes to sitting with discomfort rather than avoiding it, you are saying a big yes to yourself. A yes to living an inspired life.