Leadership excellence: Courage is power

cour·age, noun

The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, or pain without, or in spite of fear; bravery.

We admire courage when exhibited by others.

Yet do we want to be in situations where our own courage is called for?

In a word, no – or most people don’t.

Such times center around high-risk circumstances that could so easily go wrong. But for so many reasons…and because they may affect many people…situations that call for courage really must go right, somehow.

Not surprisingly, great courage is one of the top characteristics of great leaders.

What does courage really involve?

Courage is the ability to look beyond one’s own fear, to find and draw on one’s strongest reserves to get a critical job done, no matter what stands in the way.

It is the ability to assess risks and reduce them however possible, and yet to carry on with integrity in the face of the risks that still remain.

Courage, as a leader, is also the ability to incite a group to move forward and to continue to work toward a goal in spite of what may be their natural desire in a risky situation to freeze in place, or retreat.

When you hear the word, “courage,” what people and situations come to mind?

Is it Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot, who brought US Airways 1549 down safely in the Hudson River, and the team of many people on land and in rescue boats who rapidly coalesced, moved into action, and ensured that everyone from the downed plane was saved?

Is it Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the moon, and the achievements of many other people, over many years, that led to those first lunar steps?

Is it Marie Curie and other scientific explorers who forge on despite uncertainty, doubt and resistance, making discoveries that benefit many people in countless ways?

Perhaps the courageous people and circumstances you think of involve world leaders, whether elected or personally inspired to act based on the strength of their beliefs.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and many other leaders in history led people they inspired through sometimes dark and difficult days.

Of course, there are many other courageous leaders who may inspire you. And more will emerge through the course of history.

We can also see courage in people around us, in our daily lives. These may be people who are not widely known so their acts of great courage may be quiet, even subtle, but still significant, and deeply inspiring.

You, too, have surely exhibited courage at times.

Think back to times when you had to press on – and did – even though you might have wished to give up and admit defeat.

In those circumstances:

  • What were your beliefs – before the danger or difficulty arose – about what you were capable of handling?
  • When pressed by circumstances, what did you discover that you could, in fact, handle?
  • Did tapping your courage strengthen it, and enable you to be courageous again in the future, when needed?

Here are guidelines to help you increase your comfort and preparation for uncertainty…and to prepare you to be courageous when needed:

1. Anticipate and prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

That’s easy to say, and not so easy to do, but it works much of the time. It requires good foresight, planning and follow-through.

It also calls for, among other things, strong risk assessment, problem analysis and prevention skills.

2. When, despite your best efforts, danger arises, do your best to size up the risks, and quickly control the things you can control.

This may also enable you to reduce, as much as possible, the impact of factors that you are less able to control.

3. Also, set up systems to monitor key aspects of the situation you are facing to help you decide as early as possible what actions to take.

In circumstances requiring courage, conditions are likely to be changing rapidly.

Create an early warning system of some type, if you can, and do so ahead of time if you can anticipate that a situation is volatile, unpredictable.

Know, however, that you won’t have perfect information at times such as these.

Just get the best information you can, as quickly as possible. Then use that information to guide the best decisions and actions, moving forward.

4. Check in with your team in simple but effective ways.

You need to stay in close touch with others on your team. However, keep the information exchange simple, and focus on the most important decisions and details.

5. Stay the course, as long as you can tell that it is working.

Don’t be blind to what you find. At the same time, this isn’t a popularity contest. There’s a risky, and possibly even a physically dangerous circumstance to be fought.

Pay attention to the information you have, as well as your own intuition, and prior experience if you or others on your team have experience that’s relevant. And, of course, as always, use your good common sense.

At times when courage is called for, your quiet inner strength and wisdom is an invaluable asset.