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 courageous leadership may not look like what you think.
Most of us probably think about bold, decisive action as the mark of a courageous leader, but courageous 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, stuck in paralysis, eleventh-hour responses or last minute broken contracts, the courageous leader uses discernment to take a step back to contemplate the fundamental beliefs and core values that guide crucial business decisions.
In The Courage to Be, renowned philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich writes, “Courage … is rooted in the whole breadth of human existence and ultimately in the structure of being itself.”[i] While our culture emphasizes accomplishments and “doingness,” Tillich recognized that true courage springs not from what we do but from who we are. 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. As Tillich notes, this most fundamental level of our being is the source of our courage. By reconnecting with your true Self, you reconnect with your courage.
Attachments represent the basic obstacle to reconnecting with your Self. Stepping back and reflecting on beliefs and values exposes our attachments and allows us to recognize them as creations of the ego and hindrances to courage such as the adage that “the past is a good indicator of the future.” “Attachment to things drops away by itself when you no longer seek to find yourself in them.”[ii] 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 and the source of your courage. It really is that simple! As you blithely go through your day, what can you do to reflect on your neglected heart and spirit?
“Silence is a Paradox”
Stopping to reflect in silence pulls us away from the busyness of our culture. Have you noticed how “busy” has become a status symbol? Paradoxically, slowing down enables you to accomplish more. As you rediscover your being, your Self, you recognize and release unwanted attachments. Without these distractions, you become more focused, and you work more efficiently. And silence is the key. The process toward interior silence puts each individual in closer contact with his or her heart and spirit, which naturally produces an internal shift from self-deception towards courage consciousness. In the workplace this creates a humanized organization with fewer unhealthy attachments, hence fewer dramas and distractions.
In Meditations on Silence, Sister Wendy Beckett writes, “Silence is a paradox, intensely there and, with equal intensity, not there. The passivity of silence is hard to explain, since in one respect it is intensely active. We hold ourselves in a condition of surrender. We choose not to initiate, nor to cooperate with our mental processes. Yet from this passivity arises creativity.”[iii] Your life will shift if you can simply give yourself permission to be true to the courageous spirit within you. Giving yourself permission is the first critical step in achieving the courageous mindset needed for courageous leadership. Then, allowing silence to reveal the depths of your courage will empower you to overcome any obstacle. Courage consciousness keeps us focused on the present and moving forward in spite of the uncertainty.
One simple concept can help ensure that we do move forward in uncertain times: “Each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around—which puts the door behind us—and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.”[iv] By focusing on the heart instead of the ego’s desire to control, we transform work into a spiritual practice. What adjustments do you need to make in your lifestyle so that your work becomes a spiritual practice?
Many people understand that, paradoxically, the invitation to a spiritually integrated journey at work can frequently feel disturbing, beginning with “emptiness and dissatisfaction. Before the first intimations of a spiritual awakening take place, an individual tends to blindly accept the values of personality.”[v] But as each of us begins to awaken to his or her Self, the values of personality are revealed as shallow attachments. The more consistently we adopt a contemplative practice, the stronger our courage grows and the more readily we meet the challenges of uncertainty. Do you have a fondness for uncertainty?
“True leadership is not easy. 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.”[vi] 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? The great Indian mystic and teacher Osho said,
In this world the greatest courage is to drop the mind aside.
The bravest man is who can see the world without the barrier of the mind, just as it is.
It is tremendously different, utterly beautiful. There is nobody who is inferior and
there is nobody who is superior—there are no distinctions.[vii]
In the article “Simple Courage,” René 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.”[viii] It has been said that simplicity is simply “living with love.” Hence, we become courageous by being courageous. It does not get much simpler! E. F. Schumacker said, “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.”[ix] All you have to do is decide that this neglected virtue is worth embracing. Leadership qualities are defined by courage, and courage does not require a complex matrix or lengthy instructions. When individual courage synergizes you experience collective courageous leadership! What would motivate you to explore where this ancient virtue fits into your work life, right now?
Claiming your courage, like achieving organizational goals, is uncomplicated. Just ask:
- What are the results you are trying to achieve?
- How can you contribute?
- Is your intention aligned with spiritual purpose?
The person who lives from his or her heart and spirit understands simple courage, and knowing your own courage compels you to improve. Why? Courage is closely aligned with integrity and honesty.
Balancing a future vision with attainable goals certainly adds stars to your resume and supports your organization to achieve valued results. Goals, however, can shift your focus away from your vision and onto one of society’s deceptions—that success is about attaining something “out there” in the future. Your mind confirms that what you do produces what you get in the future. Herein lies the courage paradox: by staying present (in the now), you will do what is best for you. Clearing the mind of repeated scripts invites an indescribably joyful and more relaxed inner experience. “We see that the mind has gotten cluttered over the years, like an attic, with old bags and accumulated junk. Just knowing this is a big step in the right direction.”[x] And soon you discover inner simplicity.
“Simplicity of heart and life requires an appreciation of insecurity, vulnerability, marginality, and detachment.… There is only the summons to transformation as part of human experience, and its requirements are universal.”[xi] 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! And we can all attest that 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. Awareness is an experiential gift that leads to self-knowledge. Only through self-knowledge, really knowing ourselves, can we begin to live fulfilled lives. “The paradox is that we can never fully fulfill our role until we are ready to let it go. Whoever we think we are, we are not. We have to find that out, and the best way to do so, or at least the most painless way, is through the process that we call the spiritual journey.”[xii]
Through the practice of an integrated spiritual life, your courage awareness grows and expands. Eliminating denial, you actualize your full potential on both the personal and the professional levels. As courage consciousness increasingly guides your decisions and actions, the effects of your courage ripple throughout your sphere of influence, moving your organization towards the kind of positive change required to overcome the towering obstacle of uncertainty. Are you and your organization ready to step up?
[i] Tillich, Paul, The Courage To Be, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1952, 1.
[ii] Tolle, Eckhart, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, New York: Dutton, 2005, 45.
[iii] Becket, Sister Wendy, Meditations on Silence, London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995, 24.
[iv] Pamer, Parker J., Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, 54.
[v] Ferrucci, Piero, What We May Be: Techniques for Psychological and Spiritual Growth, Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1982, 139.
[vi] Lovely, Sylvia L., “The True Meaning of Leadership,” The Day.com London, October 30, 2005, http://www.theday.com/eng/web/news/re.aspx?re=B8856A5A-8893-4814-B94A-68649B6A2C36.
[vii] Osho, http://www.inspirationpeak.com/cgi-bin/search.cgi?category=courage&records=10&tmp=tp5&order_by=position&order=321&page=1.
[viii] René Da Costa, http://www.management-issues.com/2007/5/1/opinion/simple-courage.asp.
[ix] Schumacker, E. F., http://www.worldofquotes.com/topic/Genius/1/index.html
[x] Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Wherever You Go There You Are, New York: Hyperion, 1994, 21.
[xi] Teasdale, Wayne, The Mystic Heart, Novato, CA, New World Library, 1999, 2001, 150.
[xii] Iachetta, S. Stephanie, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living, New York: Continuum, 2003, 175.
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