Leading With Courage

The rewards that come with Authentically Leading people are many. While the tangible rewards are good it’s the intangible rewards that are great. The potential to have a life-long positive impact on the life of another person drives Authentic Leaders to expend a part of themselves in service to others. 

But Authentic Leadership is not without it’s challenges. 

Helping another person reach their full potential means Authentic Leaders will sometimes need to instigate difficult conversations. They cannot hide from occasional confrontations. They do not dump tough decisions on to other people. 

Many people in leadership positions lack the courage required to have those confrontational conversations. They believe they can hide from the consequences of tough decisions by not making them. 

Authentic Leaders possess the steadfast courage to have compassionate confrontational conversations. They do not shirk from their responsibility for making the tough decisions. The type of decisions that lessor leaders fail to make. 

So do you have the courage to Authentically Lead? Keep in mind that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is possessing the mental and morale strength to persevere. It’s taking action despite that fear. 

Authentic Leaders see their people as individuals, not mere assets or resources. They see them as people who they want to invest their time with. They do not see them as employees that they must spend time on developing. 

It is that “investment in people” mindset that helps them summon their courage when the need for difficult conversations arise. It is the knowledge that nearly every decision will have some type of impact on the people they lead. That is what pushes them to make and act on decisions as soon as they can. They know that not making a decision IS a decision and it’s almost always the wrong one. 

If your goal is to be an Authentic Leader then you must be willing to make wrong decisions at times. Every leader gets some decisions wrong. The most effective leaders get more decisions right than wrong. You must be willing to confront an underperforming team member. Allowing them to underutilize their strengths is a disservice to them. It can negatively impact your entire organization. When you think about it that way it may be a little easier to realize that you do in fact possess the courage to lead authentically. 

The only question that remains at that point is are you willing to invest your time and talents for the betterment of other people. If you are nothing can stop you. If you aren’t then you’ll never truly be a leader. 

The Courage to Speak Up

Very early in my sales career I worked for a company with an interesting philosophy on motivating salespeople. I hadn’t work there very long and I was the newest member of the sales team. We were behind the planned sales goal about halfway through the year. During a sales meeting the General Sales manager announced an “incentive” plan to help motivate the sales team to higher performance. The “incentive” would work like this: if after 30 days we were still behind plan one salesperson would be fired. If after 60 days we will still behind plan 2 sales people would be fired. And on it would go each month until we were either back on plan or there were no salespeople left to fire. 

It was never explained how it would be determined who was going to be fired but I figured I was a pretty strong candidate to get the first axe. 30 days flew by before we knew it. We were still well behind the plan. I came into work that morning expecting it to be a very short day. 

The sales team was gathered in the meeting room waiting, and waiting, for the management team to enter the room. Finally the General Sales Manager’s boss showed up. He announced that no one would be fired…except the General Sales Manager. 

That sure did lighten the mood in the room. 

But it didn’t change the fact that we were working for a somewhat tyrannical company. The big boss was no piece of cake to work for either. As we entered December the company announced a new compensation structure for the sales team. During the busy parts of the year the sales team would be paid a base plus commission. During the slow parts of the year the sales team would be paid only a commission. 

That would have been financial death to many of the salespeople on the team. So a meeting was arranged with Senior Management to discuss this plan. Somehow, to this day I do not understand how, I was elected to be the spokesperson for the sales team.

We met with the management team and they laid out their thinking on the change in the compensation structure. The head guy was very intimidating to most of the team but I was too stupid to realize I should be intimidated. So when the opportunity presented itself to speak up I laid out the concerns of the sales team. 

Senior Management said they had not considered our “cash flow” concerns and asked if we would prefer to stay with the status quo. There were literally shouts of yes and hell yes from the room. Senior Management kind of shrugged and said okay then, we’ll leave well enough alone. 

The next morning I was a hero to the sales team for having the courage to speak out against the big bosses ideas. Never for a moment did I consider that I was speaking “against” anyone. I was merely expressing, in as a professional manner as I could muster, our opinion that it would be very challenging for many of the sales team to pay their bills during the slow season. 

I wasn’t challenging a person, I was challenging the proposed process. I choose my words very very carefully so that it was clear that it was a process issue. Not an issue with the person proposing the process. 

It was a valuable lesson to me early in my career. When we stick to the facts it’s easier to find the courage to speak up. When we leave as much emotion as possible out of the conversation it becomes easier for the person we are speaking with to accept what we are saying. 

Many of the challenges we face in our lives can be traced back to poor or limited communication. When we speak in terms of the other person’s interests, with respect for their point of view, even the most difficult conversation becomes easier. 

Remember, the only way to get the best of an argument is not to argue. Choose your words so that no one involved in the conversation risks losing their self-esteem. 

It can require raw courage to approach tough conversations, especially with someone higher up within your organization. Sometimes you’ll need to forget they are higher up. Sometimes you’ll have to make certain you put your best communication skills to work. 

Either way, staying silent when something must be said will get you nowhere so speak up and you just might move up too.

Want more of LeadToday? I’m changing things up on my Twitter feed for subscribers. On March 2nd I began publishing two videos each week focusing on an element of Authentic Leadership. I’ll post these videos each Tuesday and Thursday morning. They will be about 10 minutes long so we can get into the topic in a more meaningful way. The investment for subscribers in still only $5 a month. That’s for at least 80 MINUTES of quality video content on leadership a month. 

If you’re interested in taking a look just head on over to my Twitter profile page. If you’re not a follower yet just hit the follow button. It will change to a subscribe button and once you hit that you’re on your way. You can cancel at any time you’ve decided you have nothing left to learn about leading the people who you count on for your success. 🙂

Here’s the link to my Twitter… https://twitter.com/leadtoday 

The Courage to Lead

You can find lots of articles on leadership that talk about the characteristics required to lead. I’ve written several myself. The two I most often write about are integrity and judgment. Asking which one is more important is a lot like asking which came first the chicken or the egg.

I personally think much of the poor judgment we see and hear about stems from a lack of integrity. People try to hide their lack of integrity and make very poor judgments in the attempt. Rather than be honest about a potential skill gap they try hiding it and once again, that attempt to deceive causes a ton of poor judgment.

Whatever leadership characteristic you think is most important I believe there is one characteristic that all effective leaders possess. That characteristic is courage.

Leading is hard. It’s hard because leadership is about people. You can manage stuff but people must be led. People, all people, are emotional. They have hopes, dreams, challenges, and worries.

If you’re leading them, truly leading, you’re dealing with your emotions, your dreams, your challenges, and your worries, PLUS theirs. That is not easy.

Sometimes conflicts will arise. Authentic Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on. Authentic Servant Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on with a healthy dose of compassion added in.

One of the most serious failings I see from people in leadership positions is lacking the courage to deal with conflicts or even potential conflicts. They will go to great lengths to ignore the situation. They will tell themselves that time will “fix” the problem. They will tell themselves and sometimes other people that “they aren’t baby sitters” and people just have to work these things out on their own. That’s NOT leading.

Making decisions is another area that often requires courageous leadership. When a person in a leadership decision lacks courage they often simply don’t make the decisions required of a leader. What they fail to realize is that not making a decision IS a decision and it’s very often a wrong decision.

Sometimes people in leadership positions lack the courage to say no. When asked for something they know isn’t possible they answer with a “we’ll see” or a “let me think about it.” They know that “no” will be an unpopular answer and they lack the courage to make unpopular decisions. That’s NOT leading either.

Some days leading requires a huge amount of courage. Some days not so much. But courage is a constant in all Authentic Leaders. Possessing the courage to lead is a leadership characteristic not considered often enough. But I’d put it in my top three most important characteristics for a leader.

What about you…do you believe a leader should possess courage?

The Power of an Idea

Linus Pauling said that the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. I think I agree with that …. mostly. I say mostly because I’m not sure an idea can be considered good until somebody does something with it. 

Lots of people have good ideas, and lots of those people never do anything with them. 

One challenge with having an idea is that it takes courage to share it. The bigger the idea the more courage it takes.

Which brings us to Craig McCaw. Mr. McCaw is an idea man. I don’t know this for sure but I’d bet he has had lots of ideas, some good, some not so good. But one idea he had that turned out to be something of a success was the wild idea of a cellular phone. 

As a pioneer of the cellular industry and the founder of McCaw Cellular, now part of AT&T, he envisioned a time when a person would have one phone number that followed them wherever they went. That was a crazy idea, a big idea and an idea he had the courage to share. 

It was also an idea that worked. Today your cellular phone will work around the world, same number, following you wherever you go. 

One reason it worked, maybe the biggest reason, is that he had the courage to give voice to his ideas. He was willing to risk looking silly, or stupid, or even crazy to share his ideas and see what would come from them. 

Many of the things we take for granted today were once just an idea. Many, if not most of those ideas might even have been considered impossible and if no one had the courage to share their idea they would have stayed impossible.

Giving voice to your ideas is the first step to success. 

So take a chance. Share your idea, tell somebody. Yes, you need to protect your idea from those who would steal it but don’t let that keep you from taking your idea from it’s hiding place and showing it off a bit.

Just having an idea might make it a good idea but letting it loose just might make it a great one. Ideas only truly become powerful when they are shared. 

So…what’s your big idea?

Why Leaders Need Courage

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” – Winston Churchill 

The Roman historian Tacitus once said, “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” Today we might translate that to something like “always playing it safe makes it much harder to succeed.” 

Leaders need courage to make decisions that followers won’t make. They need courage not to just steer the ship but to set it’s course, sometimes heading into completely uncharted territory. Leaders need courage to stand on principle when non-leaders will sacrifice those principles in order to compromise. Leaders need courage to do what’s right, not just what’s popular.

Leaders need courage to take risks.

Here is an interesting thought. Those who have the courage to take risks and those who don’t experience the same amount of fear in their life. It’s just that a leader understands that courage is not the lack of fear, it is doing what they are afraid to do.

Everyone experiences and is held back by fear from time to time. Leaders find a way to overcome their fear and more forward more times than not.

When someone shows courage it encourages people but when a leader shows courage it inspires people. It inspires people to commit to the leader and that’s a very good thing. If your people see you always doing what’s safe they will follow that lead, they will always play it safe too and when they do growth is stopped dead in it’s tracks.

You probably won’t like this but I’m going to write it anyway….if you never feel fear then it’s likely you have retreated so far into your comfort zone that you’ve stopped growing. That almost certainly means that you’ve stopped leading too.

If you haven’t experienced fear in a while then now is the time. Go out and do something, anything worthwhile, that tests your courage just for the sake of growing in courage. It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you face a genuine fear. 

If you call yourself a leader and you want your people to grow then you had better be growing too. Growth requires change and change often means risk. Consistently successful leaders have the courage to accept those risks in order to grow.

Do you have the courage to succeed as a leader?

The Courage to Confront

Authentic Servant Leaders have courage. This allows them to make tough choices, it allows them to take calculated risks. Courage is their “secret sauce,” it’s what often separates them from lesser leaders. 

This courage also helps them confront people who need to be confronted. Because they are Authentic Servant Leaders when they confront someone they will do it with compassion. They confront people for two reasons, there is a problem that needs to be corrected and they care enough to want to help the person correct it. 

Sadly, Authentic Servant Leaders are few and far between so this post on confrontation is not about them.

It’s about your everyday leader, what I’d call an average leader. They are by far the largest occupier of so-called leadership positions within organizations both large and small. They do a lot of things right and some things wrong, I guess that’s why they are average.

Confrontation, or rather lack of confrontation, is one of the biggest shortcomings of an average leader. They are just as clear-eyed as any leader in that they see the same problems as anyone other leader. It’s just that they don’t deal with it.

Some of these average leaders are just lazy. Some “hope” it will just go away, some figure “the next guy can deal with it.” A few just put their head in the sand and pretend there are no issues worth confronting. 

Some are just afraid. They lack the courage to confront.

Fear holds us back! Make no mistake about this fact, fear has kept many very talented people from succeeding. Fear has kept many people will the skill to succeed from using their skills in the pursuit of success. Fear greatly limits success.

The great Dale Carnegie once said the only place fear is real is in our mind. The point was that the only way to really eliminate fear is to change our thinking. In his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he writes that one way to overcome the stress of fear is to consider the situation you’re in and accept the worst that can happen. Once you’ve accepted the worst then you can begin to try to improve upon the worst in a much more clear-headed fashion. 

If you’re a leader who lacks the courage to confront then consider the worst that could happen. You could completely screw it up. Perhaps someone’s feelings will be hurt, maybe they will like you less. They may talk about you behind your back. You may fail miserably.

Just an aside, not confronting a situation that demands confrontation virtually guarantees each of those outcomes eventually. 

When considering how to improve on the worst that can happen think about these ideas:

Don’t confront when you’re angry. Let the dust settle a little bit before confronting anyone, things said “in the moment” are impossible to unsay. As a rule don’t confront someone about an issue when you’re still mad about the issue. That said, we’re talking minutes or hours here to settle your emotions, not months or years. The longer you wait to confront someone the bigger your mountain of fear will become. Take a small amount of time to plan your confrontation but the key here is small amount of time. 

Practice what you want to say. Go off by yourself somewhere and actually say it out loud. I know that sounds kind of weird but it will help you feel better about approaching the other person. 

Don’t turn it into an argument. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Proving to someone that they are wrong will not help them correct the situation. Don’t get sucked into their argumentative tone and don’t turn the discussion into a point, counterpoint-point debate. Say what you need to say as often as you need to say it and then be quiet. Listen. Repeat your point as needed but do not be distracted by excuses and arguments that have no bearing on the issue or person being confronted.

Agree on the next steps. Any effective confrontation leads to a plan for resolution. Just telling someone about a problem is unlikely to solve the problem. Agree on what needs to happen for the issue or concern to be be resolved, or at least agree on some initial steps. 

Understand that this may not be a fun conversation, it may not be “clean.” You may not feel great about it when it’s over and it may not go exactly as you had planned. You might even have made things temporarily worse. 

But always know this: almost all big problems were once little problems. They became big problems because they were not confronted when they were small. You risk making a small problem bigger by confronting it, you guarantee it gets bigger by not confronting it. 



The Courage of Leadership

Authentic leaders are very unique people. Perhaps that’s why we see so few of them in everyday life. They set themselves apart not only by what they say but by what they do. They simply do things differently than people who merely hold a leadership position or have an impressive sounding title. 

There are a few minimum requirements or qualities that a person must possess to qualify as an authentic leader. The actual qualities of authentic leaders can be debated forever but there are some that are absolute. Integrity and caring are two of the big ones. Judgment, or as I prefer to call it, Judgcernment, is another. Judgcernment is the ability to make a correct decision using both good judgment and discernment. 

That ability is key to effective authentic leadership. Yet many leaders have that ability and still fail in their leadership responsibilities. I believe that’s because they lack one other essential quality of leadership: Courage.

They just don’t have the nerve to pull the trigger on big decisions. They have all the facts, they know what’s right, they have correctly judged and weighed all the possibilities and still they can’t bring themselves to say yes or no.

Courage in a leader inspires their followers to commit rather than merely comply. Followers see the inner battle their leader fights to do what’s right and they commit to do what’s right as well, growing themselves, their leader and their organization.

Leaders with courage don’t just work to smooth things over, they commit to making them right. This is perhaps the hardest part of big decision making; if the decision causes change for anyone it will make someone unhappy. It might even be unfair, but courageous leaders know that the right thing to do isn’t always the fair thing to do and they do it anyway. If you believe that everyone must love you in order for them to respect you then you may be a wonderful friend but you’re likely not an authentic leader.

Courageous leaders are willing to risk being wrong sometimes in order to be right most of the time. They know that decisions move the organization forward. They know that a lack of a decision is in fact a decision; it’s a decision to do nothing and that’s a decision that is almost always wrong and at times catastrophic. 

Courageous leaders make a positive difference in whatever organization they serve. They can come from any level of an organization and they need no tittle or position to effectively influence those around them. They inspire people and organizations to greatness and their leadership far outlasts them.

If you’re wondering if you have the courage to be an authentic leader then remember this: courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing your fear and moving forward anyway. Dale Carnegie always said that the only place fear really existed was in our mind. Remove fear from your thoughts today and you’ll find the courage you already possess tomorrow.