The Courage of Leaders: Encourage It

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Thinking about Creativity and Innovation recently, made me wonder about the courage that it takes for these leaders to breaking new ground. Clearly it is one of the most important attributes of leadership.

Social psychology focuses our attention on how institutions socialize people to follow group norms (e.g., socialization of citizens to be responsive jurors; initiating people who want to join fraternities (i.e., hazing), etc.) Countless conformity studies which show that the majority of people go along with what they think is the norm (e.g. Solomon Asch, Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif, Stanley Milgram, Phillip Zimbardo). Non-conformists must believe strongly in their ideas in order to deviate; if there are supporters of the deviant idea, even just one, it makes it easier. Thus, leaders demonstrate courage when they aren’t identifying with their membership group, but with an external reference group which supports the ideas.

Leaders for whom change is an important value, and who want to institutionalize innovative processes, must overcome these forces and identify with other leaders who focus on change. Alan Downs refers to the Fearless Executive as one who finds “the courage to trust your talents and be the leader you are meant to be” It isn’t the absence of fear that marks courage, it’s the silencing of the fears by feeling confident, powerful, decisive and empowering.

And most important, by demonstrating the courage to break from the norms (e.g., this is how it’s always been done), each of us can inspire other potential and existing leaders to be more courageous and make changes. Leaders can do this in many ways, by being a role within their firms for up-and-coming leaders; as advisors and board members, they set the standards and serve as a role model, and by sharing stories of how the courage of other leaders led to breakthroughs other leaders (e.g., Steve Jobs),

So, let’s inspire one another. Share with us the story of how a leader’s courage made a difference and/or how he helped inspire others to also be courageous.