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?

When Silence is Golden…and When It’s Not

One of the greatest freedoms in the United States is the freedom of speech. Or is it?

In this age of political correctness Americans are still free to say whatever we want. That’s in the Constitution of the United States. But just because you can say it doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. It’s unlikely the consequences will be criminal but there can be consequences none the less. 

The fact that you can say almost anything also doesn’t mean that you should. Some things truly are better left unsaid. The thing is, sometimes it takes even more courage to let it remain unsaid then it takes to actually say it. 

Which brings me to one Mr. Donald Trump. As an American, Mr. Trump is free to say whatever he would like. That doesn’t mean he should. He may very well be right (he may very well be wrong) that a judge of Mexican heritage could have some bias against him. It might even be a subconscious bias. That doesn’t make the judge a bad person or even a bad judge, it makes him human. 

We all have biases and we have them for a huge variety of reasons. If Mr. Trump found himself a different judge that judge too would have some sort of bias. Such is life.

None of that however means Mr. Trump needs to say anything about a biased judge. It was dumb to say, not because it might not be true but because even if it were true there was nothing to be gained by saying it. He would have been better off just being silent on the issue. 

One can only conclude that Mr. Trump simply doesn’t have the courage to remain silent…about anything. He seems to lack the courage all true leaders have to risk looking disconnected by remaining silent when they would really rather say something. This lack of courage puts him in an untenable position when it comes to earning the trust of those he would lead. 

A leader who lacks the courage to remain silent when silence is called for is a very limited leader.

On the other hand there are times when a leader really needs the courage to speak up, to admit a failing and simply accept the consequences that come with it. 

Like maybe when, for whatever reason, you violated standard practices and written guidelines that come with a very trusted position. Instead of just admitting that you messed up royally, and maybe even criminally, and saying you will accept the consequences and try to do much better next time, you pretend it’s no big deal. 

I’m writing of course of Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency. Her denials, twisted words and revisionist history in the face of a scathing report from her own State Department shows a complete lack of courage to share the full story with those she would lead. Withholding information is a much of a lie as is providing the wrong information.

A leader who lacks the courage to speak up and tell the truth is a very limited leader. 

Sometimes it takes courage to speak and sometimes it takes courage to remain silent. Effective leaders have the courage to do both. One thing seems certain, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump say their opponent is not qualified as a leader to be President of the United States they are both correct.