Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Leadership Quality Called Courage

In times of extreme change, be they ecological or financial, leadership is a focus of deep discussion and heightened observation, and the source ultimately of trust in decisions and hope in the future.

Courage is widely accepted as one important leadership quality. Let's say that courage is a good thing, we want to see even more courage, and that we want to help build capacity to be courageous. If you were a leadership developer, what might be some of the ways that you could do that?

Courage, according to the inimitable Wikipedia, is also known as bravery, will, intrepidity, and fortitude. It is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk/danger, uncertainty or intimidation. "Physical courage" is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death, while "moral courage" is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. Hmmm...

One way to foster courageous behaviour would certainly be to model it. Another way would be to practice noticing it, naming it, and creating conversations around it. Discussions might explore what makes an act courageous, what conditions are needed for people to express their courage, how courage might be seen from different perspectives (the behaviour might not even seem like courage, but contradictorily the lack of courage to some).

Times of change produce opportunities for people and institutions to be courageous. You see it everywhere. It takes courage to make hard decisions that are needed but might be unpopular, and have unforeseen consequences at the time of taking them. And courage is complex to label, often tangled up as it is in the diversity of personal interpretations, which come from the diversity of personal impacts of the outcomes. I guess courage in itself is about stepping out of comfort zones, to act to change a situation which is not working for you and your constituency (which could be your family, team, community or organization.) And even these constituencies might not agree. It is an interesting time to have a conversation about courage, what it looks like, and who gets to decide what is courageous or not. It's probably not always so clear.