We look to leaders for many things. We have expectations of behaviors that reflect vision, confidence, and decisiveness, to name a few. However, the most important trait leaders need to have which is frequently less emphasized is courage.
To quote poet Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
Courage hasn’t often been used to describe executive leaders or managers. Historically, being powerful and hiding weaknesses has been heralded. Expressing a command-and-control attitude has been rewarded. Avoiding being seen as soft by stifling emotions is encouraged.
This attitude has resulted in many leaders focusing too much on hitting their numbers and avoiding making risky decisions that could make them look bad in the eyes of peers, superiors or outside critics. In turn, they avoid major or unpopular decisions because they fear failure, which could put their job at risk.
But courage is important. When the entire organization remains in “play it safe” mode, new innovations are often squashed. Truly game-changing ideas are deemed as too “out there”. Leaders can’t build a “culture of innovation” and ask their subordinates to take risks on their own, without their leader doing the same. Taking a risk requires courage and good leaders must lead by example.
Leaders in your organization shouldn’t be in place simply because of their institutional knowledge or ability to manage but on their ability to lead with courage. And this courage-driven leadership impacts the organizational culture in 5 significant ways:
Courageous leaders build trust. It takes courage to be authentic with others because that involves vulnerability and vulnerability is often uncomfortable. But the more real and authentic a leader can be, the more trust they can build with others.
Courageous leaders create a culture of accountability. With courage, more people can hold each other accountable, despite their position or rank in their organization because they’re not afraid to stand up to others or call each other out.
Courageous leaders build organizational morality and integrity. Courage gives individuals the strength to speak up about things that aren’t right or should not be tolerated even if it’s uncomfortable to do so.
Courageous leaders help build the organizational capacity for risk-taking. Individuals are more willing to fail in the pursuit of success and they’re more willing to try new things if their leaders see their failures in a positive light as learning and growth, as opposed to something negative and permanent.
Courageous leaders create purpose-driven, inspired cultures. Organizational leaders that value courage create work environments where people feel safe, respected and acknowledged. The organization is then freer to motivate others, to challenge themselves, and contribute to the collective goals of their organization.
Are you leading with courage? It might just be the thing your organizational culture is missing.
About the Author
Andrea Belk Olson has a 20-year, field-tested background that provides unique, applicable approaches to creating more customer-centric organizations. A 4-time ADDY® award-winner, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic marketing efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world on how to craft effective customer-facing operational strategies to discover new sources of revenues and savings.