Leadership Isn’t for Cowards: How to Lead Courageously in a Turbulent Age

Courage has to do with the willingness and ability to face what needs to be faced and to do what needs to be done. Courage requires you to be confident that your values are being consistently executed in every aspect of the culture you influence.

What are your values? To what extent are you living and leading in alignment with those beliefs and values? Courage is about clarity and mindfulness. It takes courage to be direct and authentic in your communication, clear and without ambivalence in your convictions, and willing to do what needs to be done regardless of its popularity.

The Measure of a Leader

In my coaching work, I measure the courage of a leader in these ways.

The level of clarity regarding the heart and soul of the leadership message
•To what extent is your message clear and inspiring?
•To what extent is it understood and actionable?

The degree to which the followers are engaged in the strategy
•To what extent do followers see how they fit in and contribute to the vision?
•To what extent do you ask for input from your followers?

The degree of action orientation
•To what extent is the leader relentlessly quick in decision-making and execution?
•To what extent does the leader insist on accountability and results over effort?

Define Focus Areas

Leaders work to influence others. You have to be able to stay focused on no more than four centers of excellence. What are your areas of focus? A client of mine identified his focus in this way:

1. Making this the best place to work
2. Creating an exceptional customer experience
3. Operational excellence
4. Financial strength

Listen to Voices

I was a program manager in a psychiatric hospital years ago and was always amazed by those who came in hearing voices. As a leader, you must hear voices of a different type.

The voice of your employees/associates
You should push your people all the time to share information. You should ask them what it’s like to work for you and how you can make it a better and more productive place to work.

The voice of your customer
Until the mid-’90s, we lived in a provider-driven economy. Basically, the provider of goods and services was in charge of the transaction. With the internet came a shift in the economy. What mechanisms do you have in place to get the voice of the customer loudly in front of you?

The voice of the balance sheet
Have the courage to look deeply into the financials. Do the expenditures reflect your values? What does the balance sheet say about what you value? What changes do you need to make today? If you don’t really have control over your financials, how does your budget reflect your values?

Attack with Courage

The path to courageous leadership has six components. If you want an easy way to remember them, try using the acronym “ATTACK.”

Accept Your Circumstances
I have found that most leaders either overestimate or underestimate the health of their current culture. As a leader, you need to look reality in the face and accept it.

Take Responsibility
A courageous leader owns the results of his or her choices. Don’t blame the market, interest rates or any other outside conditions for circumstances inside your culture. As a leader they’re your responsibility, but that doesn’t mean every problem your company has is your fault.

Take Action
Many leaders spend too much time getting ready to be ready. Instead, analyze the pitfalls and act quickly.

Acknowledge Progress
Determine the desirable results and benchmarks, and be certain that those benchmarks are acknowledged and celebrated when they are achieved.

Commit to Lifelong Learning
If you’re not learning, you’re not leading—regardless of your title. So many executives that get into a leadership role have the sense that they have “arrived.” Commit yourself to learning on three levels: Learn about yourself first, your people second and your industry third.

Kindle Relationships
Kindle is often defined as giving new life to something. Leaders give new life to businesses and organizations by constantly developing people, engaging people and caring about their progress.


MS-HeadshotMichael Staver will be a featured speaker at Smart Meeting West National Sept. 11–13 at Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. He is the author of Leadership Isn’t for Cowards, Do You Know How to Shut Up? and 21 Ways to Defuse Anger and Calm People Down.

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