“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
How do you picture a courageous leader?
Courage in action
In ancient battles, we envisage a leader being at the forefront, riding atop a horse with a spear and shield, ready for combat. It’s an unfathomable sight to imagine seeing them avoid the slings and arrows as they approach their adversaries. We call these acts of bravery, courage, and heroism.
In business, you may have dealt with a fearless leader or two who go against the grain, who willingly accept any and all responsibilities, and break traditions to initiate change. It often makes us wonder where they get the passion and motivation to drive organizational changes despite others’ resistance or uncertain market conditions.
What is courage in leadership?
Courage has several manifestations among leaders through its physical and non-physical qualities. Merriam-Webster defines courage as a ‘mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.’ While in a journal, Daft (2005) describes it as pushing beyond one’s comfort zone, having the capacity to ask for what you want, verbally expressing your thoughts, and fighting for something you believe in.
A courageous leader determines the fate of their organization as they push in achieving the grand vision in order to experience exceptional results. Let’s check out the many facets of courageous leaders in organizations.
What a courageous leader looks like – 10 Proven traits you must unlock
1. Open and self-aware
How often have you encountered a leader who masks their emotions and fakes their intelligence? It’s not hard to recognize the negative vibe when you’re around them.
Most of us prefer to approach a leader who stays open and transparent. We want to be able to communicate with someone who accepts ideas from others and doesn’t protest to know-it-all. We also prefer to speak with a leader who says what needs to be said as opposed to just those things that they think everyone wants to hear.
It is why self-aware leaders propel their team members like no other – they recognize what they can and cannot do, they’re alright with it, and they do what they can to help their team members grow. Thus, they seek and encourage opinions on the areas they don’t have expertise in. They also have no trouble giving constructive feedback.
A courageous leader effectively listens to what everyone has to say without opposing or jumping to initial conclusions and they understand that collaboration can bring them closer and faster to their goal.
2. Values and principles-oriented
Courageous leaders earn others’ respect because of the values and principles they uphold and the actions that align with them.
Let’s face it. Sometimes some of the success of your business can be attributed to your competitor’s misfortunes or them neglecting core values such as fairness and honesty. These crucial qualities of a leader – honesty, integrity, equality, liberty, collectivity, and courage play a vital role in effective leadership.
However tempting, an authentic leader never compromises their values to gain profits or reach their targets at the expense of others.
A key distinguishing characteristic of a courageous leader is their ability to think beyond the imaginable and explore the world of the unknown. They are not afraid to try new things. They also find it easy to envision what it would be like if something were created or offered.
They exhibit a growth mindset that aims to improve their processes, systems, structure, and workforce.
If there’s a catchword that became popular in this uncertain and challenging time, it’s no other than resilience. We found clarity from Psychology Today’s explanation which states, “Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.”
Since courageous leaders face a crisis head-on, they undergo the unpleasant experience, learn from it, and emerge tougher and wiser.
Asking your team members to perform at their best and deliver on their obligations must push you to do the same. When you lead by example in what you say and do, it inspires your team to move in the same direction as you.
To be a courageous leader, you must hold yourself accountable whatever the outcome is. The sad thing is, often accountability is passed on to the members when a project falters, which causes demoralization. You can turn its effect upside-down by owning up and making accountability beneficial for you and your team.
Humility is expressed through the experience of a big win and the leaders pass on the credit to their team members. Often, extrinsic rewards such as higher pay or other benefits create instant gratification but don’t produce long-lasting effects in terms of motivation or engagement.
However, simply expressing acknowledgment (“job well done” or “keep it up”) means more to your team than you may imagine. Being humble in accepting your own mistakes is also a sign of courage which is also related to your self-awareness – you acknowledge that you won’t always be right and have weak spots too.
7. Emotionally intelligent
For a long time, we’ve used intelligence quotient (IQ) as a key measure to gauge readiness when entering a university or the workforce. However, in the business world, having a high emotional quotient or intelligence (EQ) turned out as more competent and effective in their job performance.
A study reveals that 95% of HR managers and 99% of workers identified that having a high EQ allows them to handle their emotions and responses to others’ emotions which builds organizational harmony and workplace success.
8. Drive positive change
A courageous leader doesn’t think twice about replacing the old, outdated practices to make way for new and improved systems (“drop the baggage” as we say here at Waking Giants).
Conformity is not in their vocabulary. But initiating a positive change is. Realizing that letting go and taking risks is critical to drive changes and achieve positive outcomes.
9. Creates safe space for team
A successful workplace is built by a leader who ‘encourages courage’ in speaking honest opinions, trying new things, and embracing one another’s differences.
It means not punishing the small mistakes that lead to learning and development. When you inspire your team to think and act differently to practice being unique, you must cultivate a culture that permits falling and learning to thrive.
10. Committed to the organization’s purpose
Having a purpose or reason for existence is critical to any individual or business.
When you commit to your organization’s purpose, it establishes a more solid anchorage that allows you to withstand difficulties. Similarly, when you cultivate a purpose-driven team and instill in them the values and mission of your company, you’re on the right track in attaining business success.
This sense of purpose boosts engagement that will help you to reach your goals faster. A Gallup research indicates that a highly engaged workforce leads to a 41% decrease in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.
Developing into a courageous leader does not occur overnight. You must wake your sleeping confidence, learn to take risks, and stay open to new possibilities. Aim to unlock these 10 proven secrets to aid you as you empower your team, overcome the challenging times, and help your organization thrive.
Debevoise, Nell. (2021, August 30). Three Steps To Becoming A Courageous Leader. Forbes, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nelldebevoise/2021/08/30/three-steps-to-becoming-a-courageous-leader/?sh=1ef484e65464
Detert, James. (2022, January 7). What Courageous Leaders Do Differently. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2022/01/what-courageous-leaders-do-differently
Gavin, Matt. (2020, March 3). 5 Characteristics of a Courageous Leader. Harvard Business School Online. Retrieved from https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/courageous-leadership
Harter, Jim & Mann, Annamarie. (2017, April 12). The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction. Gallup, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236366/right-culture-not-employee-satisfaction.aspx
Houstan, Anne. (n.d.) 8 ways to develop your courageous leadership. Social Enterprise Academy. Retrieved on January 24, 2022, from https://www.socialenterprise.academy/scot/8-ways-to-develop-your-courageous-leadership
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Courage. Retrieved on January 24, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/courage
Positive Psychology. (2021, July 12). What is Resilience and Why is It Important to Bounce Back? Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-resilience/