The biggest obstacle faced by today’s business leaders can be summed up in two words: unprecedented uncertainty. Failure to acknowledge this new reality is to live in denial and risk not just a company’s success, but its very survival. Thinking differently and being willing to challenge the status quo during times of uncertainty requires courage. In fact, today’s business climate makes it more important than ever for leaders to embrace courage, but courage leadership may not look like what you think. What is required of you?
Most of us probably think about a bold, decisive action as the mark of a courageous leader, but courage leadership actually starts with the recognition that we need to stop and reflect. Instead of making swift judgments in the frenzied “business as usual” knee-jerk mindset, eleventh-hour responses or last-minute broken promises, the courageous leader uses discernment. With discernment, leaders at all levels take a step back to contemplate the fundamental beliefs and core values that guide crucial business decisions. An inner gaze promotes contemplation, a key component to enhancing everyday courage (versus extraordinary actions). True courage springs not from what we do but from who we are. This is hard to discern when “busy” has become a status symbol. How often do you say, “I’m so busy!”?
Allowing ourselves to slow down and lead a reflective life begins the process of reconnecting our daily lives with who we are at the most fundamental level. Referred to as the true self, you reconnect with your courage. In other words, living courageously is not so much about what you are doing as who you are being. Courage comes from the French word “corage,” meaning “heart and spirit,” so to be courageous means to live and work from your heart, the center of your being. As you blithely go through your day, what can you do to reflect on your courage leadership?
“True leadership is not easy,” writes Sylvia Lovely in “The True Meaning of Leadership.” “That may be why leadership is not widespread. The world in which we live encourages ‘boutique’ leadership — where we find comfortable niches in which to become involved but rarely take on the tough work that comes with making fundamental and needed change. Leadership springs from simple and often small acts of courage, where doing the right thing becomes more important than personal security or gain,” Lovely wrote.
While the concepts of courage-centered leadership are deceptively simple, the mind (ego) will want to undermine the concepts, especially when uncertainty fuels fear and insecurity. How could something so easy work and be overflowing with self-fulfillment?
In the article “Simple Courage,” consultant Rene Da Costa writes that people demonstrate a tendency to shun simplicity for complexity or difficulty (over-intellectualizing). “Simplicity takes talent and dedication. It takes courage to advocate simplicity. Simplicity has nowhere to hide and neither do those who advocate it,” Da Costa wrote.
Hence, we become courageous by being courageous. It does not get much simpler! All you have to do is decide that this neglected virtue is worth embracing. Leadership qualities are defined by courage — it does not require a complex matrix or lengthy instructions. Economist E. F. Schumacker summarizes this viewpoint well: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
When individual courage has an opportunity to synergize at work, you experience collective courage leadership. What would motivate you to explore where this ancient virtue fits into your work life, right now? By recognizing, developing and wielding the power of courage at work, anyone can realize a higher level of job satisfaction, earn more rapid advancement at work, develop stronger interpersonal and leadership skills, experience personal fulfillment at work and transcend the limitations of any situation.
We are being challenged to review how we live our lives. The courage paradox is that when we protect ourselves by manipulating situations to feel safe, we are actually feeding the attachments created by our egos and staying stuck in old behavior patterns. Far too many organizations are stuck in old ego-based control scripts.
Outwardly manifesting our courage to overcome today’s imposing obstacles requires the paradoxical action of taking a step inward — deeper into our identities — to become increasingly self-aware. Invariably, the solutions to our obstacles at work appear when we identify our own obstacles to courage, obstacles like self-neglect, intimidation, abuse, inertia and self-doubt. Only through self-knowledge, really knowing ourselves, can we experience self-fulfillment at work. Awareness is an experiential gift that leads to self-knowledge.
As courage consciousness increasingly guides your decisions and actions, the effects of your courage ripple throughout your sphere of influence, moving your organization toward the kind of positive change required to overcome the towering obstacle of uncertainty. Are you and your organization ready to step up? Perhaps you will wish to prominently post this ancient Chinese proverb: “He who hesitates before each step spends his life on one leg.”
Sandra Ford Walston is a learning and Organizational Effective consultant, speaker, corporate trainer and courage coach. She is the author of the bestseller “Courage: The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman.”
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