scared to death—but saddling up anyway.”
— John Wayne
research on leadership effectiveness I’ve seen, courage ranks pretty high as an
important leadership characteristic. These are tough times, and tough times require courageous leaders.
We all know this, right? We sure know it when we don’t see it. Who wants to
work for a leader that:
– Won’t take tough stands with others
– Doesn’t step up to the issues
– Is intimidated by others in power
– Avoids conflict
– Won’t look out for the best interests of the team
– Can’t make a tough decision
In other words, a wimp.
As a leader, I would hate to be called out as a wimp. Ouch. However, if it
happens to you, there is hope. Like any valid leadership characteristic, there
is no “courage gene”. Someone does not emerge from the womb courageous – it’s
something that can be learned and developed.
How? Here are 12 tips for leaders that will help grow some leadership courage:
1. Get clear on what’s important.
Identify your core values, principles, or “leadership
rules”. Let these be your guiding light. Establish a vision of who you want
to be as a leader, and then begin to live up to that vision. It’s easier to
make tough decisions when you have a clear set of guiding principles.
2. Learn how to deal with conflict.
Read books or take courses in conflict management, negotiations, influence,
assertiveness, giving feedback, and/or crucial conversations. Then practice until it hurts.
3. Develop your leadership “presence”.
I’ve written posts on how
to do this. Presence is more than an inner confidence – it’s a commanding
physical presence as well. Like it or not, as a leader, image matters. People
will size you up in less than 30 seconds, so yes, that initial greeting and
handshake (avoid the “dead fish”) really do matter.
4. Ask yourself: “what’s the worst thing that could happen”?
The next time you feel the urge to challenge someone in power or take an
unpopular stand, ask yourself this question: “What’s the worst thing that could
happen”? Do you really think you’re going to get fired? Yelled at? Disgraced
for life? Yes, there’s a slight chance that any of those things could happen,
but in reality, it’s not very likely. We make up all kind of horror stories in
our heads that prevent us from saying or doing what’s right. Next time, take the advice from Tom
Peters, and just say “what the hell”.
5. Trial by fire.
Volunteer for a high stakes, tough assignment that will require you to make
tough calls and deal with conflict. There’s no better way to learn than by
earning your scars through experience. Step up and be the person who has to cut
the budget, close an office, handle the next layoff, or deliver the bad news.
6. Learn from role models.
Identify people in your company whose courage you admire. Talk to them and
learn how they act on their convictions. Read a biography of a courageous
leader (Churchill, Lincoln, Ghandi).
7. Be a fixer, not a victim.
When you see a problem that you think “someone” should address, ask yourself if
you could be doing something about it. It’s easy to complain or point fingers –
it takes courage to be a part of the solution.
8. Avoid wimpy words and language.
Here’s an example of a meeting behavior that drives me nuts. Someone meekly
half raises their hand and says “can I ask a question”? When you do that, you
might as well hang a wimp sign around your neck. You were invited to the
meeting for a reason – to contribute.
9. Remember that leadership is not a popularity contest.
Leaders don’t manage by polls or surveys and strive to make everyone happy. In
fact, if you haven’t ticked anyone off in the last year, you might be giving in
too much instead of sticking to your convictions (see #1).
10. Hold yourself and others accountable.
High performers want and expect to be held accountable by their leaders. High
performing teams will even hold each other accountable. When you establish and
commit to a standard or expectation, courageous leaders
hold themselves and others accountable to those expectations.
11. Look in the mirror/ask for feedback.
Ask for a 360 assessment. Go ahead, you can handle the truth.