January 23, 2019

Is Courage an Undervalued Leadership Attribute?

Nancy Steiger

Nancy Steiger
President/Nancy Steiger Consulting

Share This Post

Good leaders are always looking for new ways to become great leaders. They’re working on continual self-improvement, professional growth and… yes… they possess high emotional intelligence. If you think about it, that’s what sets great leaders apart.

Throughout my career as a CEO, I’ve seen them all, the good – the not so good – and the great. Watching them grow – coaching them through those amazing teaching moments – seeing each of them find their own greatness -- has been my greatest honor and the most gratifying role I have held as a servant leader to them.

Coaching others often entails recommending reading for growth. I was often asked what my favorite books were and I had cultivated quite the library of recommendations through my years in leadership. By far, the book I recommended most often was “Leadership on the Line” by Heiftez and Lansky. If you haven’t read it, I would say it’s a foundational book for anyone who is in leadership, who wants to be a leader, or who is coaching other leaders.

To lead is to live dangerously. Heiftez and Lansky tell us that “People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.” (p.12)

To be willing to lead and take that risk of putting yourself on the line, one trait you cannot live without is Courage.

  • Courage to set a vision.
  • Courage to cultivate a team.
  • Courage to be vulnerable in your leadership and to create a true connection.
  • Courage to risk optimism.
  • Courage, sometimes, to do the unpopular thing, or to break away from the crowd.
  • Courage, even, and perhaps especially, to know how to respond when you are asked to compromise your values, internally or organizationally.
  • And courage, to discern which way to go, what to do, and how to lead your people.

Courage is the one thing that separates great leaders from the rest of the pack. My foundation for having courage is taking the time to get clear about my own mission, vision, and values. These are guiding lights and serve as filters and screens for what I say yes to and what I say no to. As a leader, all activities and opportunities should start with aligning your mission and values with the organization you are supporting. This is what creates culture, and this is what propels teams and businesses to achieve aspirationally and stay inspired.

Courage has been on my mind lately. It’s an essential trait in leadership and I am always refreshed and inspired by others when I see them acting with courage. Acting from fear is not a recipe for success – but taking action from courage is. I want to be very clear here – I truly believe that courageous leadership is not about title. I recently took an interim assignment as an Operations Consultant and I was reminded of this: you do not need to be the CEO or even have an Executive title to create meaningful change in an organization, the culture, or the people. In fact, sometimes it’s more effective to lead from exactly where you are rather than waiting for a title or for permission.

If you know how to connect the dots for people, and connect them back to the mission, vision, and values; if you believe in empowering people with knowledge and skill, removing barriers and providing resources, all to drive and achieve results; and if in your core you know that it is critical to listen to and inspire the hearts and minds of the people you are serving, then you can lead from anywhere and in any place.

I have been in many different “positions” throughout my career – starting as a nurse’s aide, and moving my way up to being a Network CEO for multiple hospitals and medical groups and having responsibility for leading thousands of people. No matter the title I’ve had, I bring my whole heart and all of my leadership to every role, moment, and interaction. No matter where you are in an organization, you have the opportunity to create positive change and incredible followership, as long as you have courage to do so.

I would love to hear your thoughts or stories about moments you’ve shown up to lead with courage, with or without a title. Questions are always welcome too! Oh, if you have a book or piece of literature by writers who have helped you with your own leadership formation, like Heifetz and Lansky have done for me – please share it with the rest of us.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

Share This Post