What Do We Mean by Courageous Leadership?

You could be forgiven for thinking courageous leadership is only for those who risk lives to perform their jobs — such as those in the army, police force, or fire service — but you’d be wrong.

Yes, such roles require bravery under particular and difficult circumstances, but this isn’t necessarily the same as being courageous.

Courageous leaders can be found in any organization or company, anywhere, and anytime. It could be you.

Courageous leaders are those who tackle difficult topics, difficult people, and difficult tasks or issues.

Have you ever seen a leader broach a difficult topic, deliberately choosing to open up a discussion to encourage resolution? Someone who recognizes there’s an obstruction and — by making sure the unpleasant truth is heard and acknowledged more widely — break down barriers to push progress?

Or what about that person who leads a change project that — despite all evidence pointing to the fact that it’s for the good of the organization or team — continually faces huge resistance yet keeps on going, never giving up and ultimately implementing the needed change?

And what about the leader who tackles the ‘elephant in the room’ and cleverly facilitates the conversation to bring conflict to the fore and thereby resolving it through healthy debate and discussion?

Or how about the person who seeks feedback and knowledge of self, who puts the mirror up to themselves,  understanding it’s important to know their weak spots if they are to improve as a leader?

Sometimes you come across a leader who is not afraid to show or even share their vulnerability to their people — either by admitting they don’t have the answer or acknowledging how they’ve failed.

Other times they need to make decisions which might not be hugely popular and could have, in the short term, an adverse effect on their likeability or may cast aspersions on their strategic capabilities, yet time shows they took the decision for the long-term betterment of the organization and their people rather than choosing to only care for their own political and career advancement.

On occasion, courageous leaders might be the one who has to have the conversation with someone about their poor performance and ensure there are positive outcomes for both the individual and the organization. Any leader who says they enjoy those kind of discussions are not leaders, they are sadists. But those leaders who never have those conversations and wait until there is no option short of firing an employee are cowards.

It may not be glamorous, but leaders who take small steps daily to ensure the betterment of themselves, their team, and their organization can be considered courageous. By putting the greater good over themselves and facing tension, awkwardness, and problems head-on, these leaders are a model of the ideal employee and deserve accolades. Even if their job isn’t considered dangerous.


Photo credit: Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration

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