Guest post from Angela Sebaly:
As a leadership coach, I’ve spent decades observing hundreds of people who have strikingly different backgrounds and equally diverse approaches to leadership. Despite the differences, there has been one quality that has separated the good managers from the exceptional leaders: the willingness to step up to the plate and face any challenge rather than avoid it. That means making difficult decisions or implementing unpopular changes. It also means taking a stand or holding an emotionally charged conversation. Even giving and receiving feedback can be challenging - yet it’s a challenge that absolutely must be faced.
Thus, being a great leader means turning towards the problem and tackling it head-on rather than running from tension. Not just every now and then, but regularly. This may sound like par for the course, but in fact, it’s more complicated than it sounds and is often shirked because with challenges, comes pain.
Most of us have already experienced this somehow. After all, isn’t it easier to find a workaround in a tricky situation than to risk a confrontation - even if that confrontation might open the door to a lasting solution? This is just one example among many.
Instead of trying to erase or evade the potential for pain in the midst of challenges, I advise leaders to lean into the experience. This begins with acknowledging that pain will inevitably arise - whether you’re holding a touchy conversation with an employee who has been an hour late for a week straight, or making the decision to cut back on departmental funding or personnel.
Pain can be a tricky thing. We humans experience pain differently. Our threshold for pain is entirely subjective. Pain is a stimulus, and how we perceive that stimulus differs based on our individual propensity to sense it and tolerate it. One person might faint at breaking a bone while another doesn’t realize it’s broken for days, if not weeks. To be an effective leader, you have to understand your relationship with pain and learn to endure it. It is, quite simply, part of the process of effective leadership. Leaders must be mentally prepared for this fact that pain and have a toolkit at their fingertips for rising to meet challenges instead of shirking them in favor of stability and comfort.
This, in turn, requires courage. John Wayne once said that courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. This definition is one I’ve held onto in my work, because I believe courage partly comes from a leader’s ability to face fear and potential pain.
The good news is, no matter how pain-averse you are, you can develop the courage and strength to rise to challenges and work through pain. Everyone can. Leaders falsely believe they are required to be the Navy Seals of the workplace -- unemotional, unwavering, strong -- to be considered courageous, but in reality, we all have the power to tap into courage.
That’s because courage is not something we are born with. It is not a definitive characteristic like the color of your eyes or your height. Rather, courage is a mindset that requires only grit and determination. To be courageous means to keep working at something even if it is tough or uncomfortable. It takes practice and dedication, but once it’s developed it is a priceless skill that can be applied to all varieties of leadership, whether in the workplace, in the community or at home.
Angela Sebaly, author of The Courageous Leader (Wiley, spring 2017), is co-founder and CEO of the firm Personify Leadership, a training provider. Formerly the Vice President of Leadership Development for a global oil, gas and chemicals inspection company, Angela also serves as principle consultant for the firm Invested Leadership. An entrepreneur developing a global presence, Angela has been coaching, facilitating and leading teams and organizations for over two decades. Education, communication and courage are the pillars of her life’s work. She lives with her family in Fort Lauderdale.