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Courageous leadership in the modern workplace

What is courageous leadership?

Most of us have a preconceived idea of what it means to be a strong and courageous leader. We may picture someone confident and fearless. A courageous leader is more than that: they are humble and recognize their shortcomings. They aren’t afraid to admit when they do not know something. A courageous leader is someone who is not afraid of being honest. They are open to receiving feedback and willing to take accountability for their mistakes.  Courageous leaders are resilient amid adversity and are unapologetically committed to their values. Courageous leaders are also willing to engage in difficult conversations, even when it might hurt someone’s feelings. Most importantly, courageous leaders actively choose to be vulnerable—even if they don’t have to. Courageous leaders lead with humility.

James Detert, author of Choosing Courage, writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Pretending to be fearless no matter how good the reasons are to be afraid, or acting like a know-it-all no matter how obvious it is that neither you nor anyone else has all the answers, isn’t impressive.” When leaders admit they need help, it doesn’t diminish their leadership ability. On the contrary, it demonstrates the authentic characteristics of a strong and admirable leader who is willing to ask for help when they need it. Detert explains that the same is true with apologies. Leaders who apologize genuinely show their team members they care and aren’t afraid to own their mistakes. Instead of covering up mistakes or diverting attention, courageous leaders take accountability for their actions.

Becoming a courageous leader

Adapting a courageous leadership mindset is the first step to becoming a courageous leader. Here are 6 ways you can develop courageous leadership:

1. Seek honest feedback

Courageous leaders seek feedback from their team members and peers. They are keen to hear unfiltered opinions and ideas and make necessary changes. When asking for feedback, assure your team members that their feedback is safe with you and that their honesty will not affect their roles and position.

2. Take accountability for your mistakes

Taking accountability and owning your mistakes isn’t easy, but being able to admit mistakes is a characteristic of courageous leadership. When leaders acknowledge they don’t know everything and apologize for their mistakes, they set an example for their team and create a trusting culture.

3. Stay resilient amid adversity

Staying resilient amid change is critical for a team to succeed. As leaders, when we model perseverance to our team members, we help foster a strong and resilient team. However, while resiliency is important, courageous leaders are fearless in taking advantage of new opportunities and forgoing old systems when they no longer help organizations thrive.

4. Have difficult or uncomfortable conversations

Courageous leaders do not walk away from uncomfortable conversations. They initiate real, honest conversations with their team members even when it might be difficult. When giving feedback on workplace performance, show your team members you care about them and ask if they need support. Displaying compassion is key to being a strong and caring leader.

5. Be unapologetically committed to your values

Courageous leaders are unwavering in their values and principles. They stick to their values and always do what is right rather than what is easy. Being committed to your values shows your team where your convictions stand.

6. Actively choose to be vulnerable

Let’s be honest: no one enjoys being vulnerable, especially not in a workplace environment. But vulnerability is part of being human and especially critical when we want to foster a human-centred environment that cares about team members’ wellbeing. Courageous leaders actively choose to be vulnerable.

Courageous leadership in the modern workplace

In the modern workplace, courageous leaders are essential for an organization to strive in a fast-paced environment. “A critical mass of brave leaders is the foundation of an intentionally courageous culture. Every time we are brave with our lives, we make the people around us a little braver and our organizations bolder and stronger,” says Brené Brown. Leaders must be courageous to make difficult decisions, overcome obstacles, and achieve their goals. “Courage and compassion are strengths that enable colleagues to find a platform of trust in your leadership,” says Benjamin Laker in his Forbes article. Courageous leaders are also risk-takers. They are unafraid to try new methods and strategies to improve their team. When courageous leaders take risks, they show their team members how to do the same.   

To all leaders, I want to leave you with this quote by Aristotle: “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.”