Have you ever noticed that courage is never mentioned as a requirement in the job description of a leader? Yet, as you well know, leaders are called on daily to commit courageous acts. It takes courage to:
- Stand up for what you believe in.
- Create something new.
- Change “the way it’s always been done.”
- Disagree with your boss and your boss’s boss.
- Confront a peer about their behaviour.
- Ask for feedback from your team.
- Admit that you aren’t perfect.
- Ask for help.
- Provide honest, direct feedback to a direct report.
We are all capable of courageous acts. And yet we often choose not to be courageous. Sometimes our choice is conscious and sometimes it’s not. As I’ve been reflecting on how I could grow my own awareness and capacity for courage and how I could help other leaders grow their capacity, I quickly realized that simply resolving to be more courageous would change nothing. For insight, I looked to some of the leaders that I work with regularly, noticing their courageous acts that I’d witnessed over the last few months. I realized that all these leaders had a few things in common:
- A clear vision of what they wanted to achieve/change/impact in their world.
- A healthy sense of dissatisfaction with their current reality.
- Knowledge about their values – what they stand for and why it’s so important to them.
- A strong sense of purpose. These leaders understand that their best, most meaningful work comes when they align the work they love to do with what serves a greater good. I love this definition of purpose from Frederick Buechner: “Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.”
Leaders who know what they believe in and have a strong vision for the future and a compelling purpose have the necessary fuel to commit courageous acts regularly. None of these leaders, when asked, felt like their acts were courageous. Rather, they said they felt obligated to do those acts. They just felt like it was the right thing to do.
The path to being courageous begins with knowing yourself; developing deep inner knowledge about who you are, what you believe in and what you feel compelled to accomplish/change. Now, to be clear, we don’t come across this self-knowledge by chance. It takes intention and hard work, and perhaps working with a coach that can help you see what makes you great. I know that I have benefitted from such work with my coach. I also know that investing the effort to develop this inner knowledge will transform your performance and effectiveness as a leader. And it will make your life more fulfilling and meaningful.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and wisdom on this topic. And, if you are looking for a provocative partner to unleash your performance, let’s discuss.
Note: Last month I wrote about self-care, and in this post I’m discussing self-knowledge. These are two of five practices that I believe are essential for success as a leader. The graphic below illustrates my approach and philosophy. Over the next few months, I’ll continue to write about my approach to helping leaders unleash their best performance, along with my own struggles and lessons learned, all served with the intention of provoking your potential as a leader.