The Courage to Lead

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President Obama’s decision to “lead from behind” in Mideast foreign affairs (e.g., Libya) made me think about how important courage is for leadership. It takes courage for a leader to engage the hearts and minds of those who would follow and to set an example for future leaders. Where does this courage come from? How can we help future leaders cultivate that courage? That inspired me to read about the topic and now share some thoughts about it.

What is courage? It’s not the absence of fear. Rather, it is the willingness to proceed and do what is necessary and important even when it is frightening and dangerous to do so.  Robert Staub, II, in The Heart of Leadership; 12 Practices of Courageous Leaders  says “Courage is found in those who see the hazards, experience anxiety or even terror but proceed because it is the right things to do. These people have found the heart of leadership.”

Effective leaders are concerned with five tasks; courageous leaders learn how to do them well. These tasks are to:

  • Ensure that the future is being planned for, anticipated and secured
  • Serve the needs and interests and eliciting the support from key constituencies
  • Keep the organization’s members focused on substantive results while meeting the requirements of current realities
  • Build a long-term value network of relationships
  • Tie it all together strategically.

For many people, President Obama’s prior Mideast strategy “to lead from behind” was not a demonstration of courage. Now, that Syria has crossed his red line a second time (which took place a few days before I wrote this blog), he is making a courageous decision: how to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against his own people, while still avoiding being drawn into another possibly endless battle in the middle-east. By the time you read this, we’ll all know how courageous it was and whether it as wise as former President Kennedy’s decision to use a quarantine to stop Cuba from building a large stockpile of Soviet missiles.

In many ways, Vistage helps members become more courageous leaders. By developing new leadership skills, gaining fresh perspectives, allowing peers to question your assumptions and having coaches carefrontationally challenge you to stretch, Vistage in many ways helps members engage in Staub’s seven components of leadership courage:

  • The courage to see current reality
  • The courage to dream and put forth that dream
  • The courage to confront
  • The courage to be confronted
  • The courage to learn and grow
  • The courage to be vulnerable
  • The courage to act.

How has Vistage helped you become a more courageous leader – in terms of setting strategy, creating culture, empowering teams, making tough decisions and countless other ways? Share your experiences so we call can be even more courageous in the future.