“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision” – Peter Drucker
In my discussions with leaders on the topic of Authentic Leadership the trait of Courage often emerges. Courage is an age-old and forever green concept, often associated with individuals like Rosa Parks, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. It is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the key traits of successful authentic leadership.
Here are a few ways in which authentic leaders exemplify courage:
Staying true to their Internal Compass – Courageous leaders are clear on their purpose and their values and do not compromise those for external symbols of success such as power and accolades. Authentic leaders have the courage to stay true to, and step up for, their internal compass. In the head-winds of instant gratification and short-term solutions, which may win them accolades now but impact long term business results, they are invested in finding win-win solutions for now and the future.
Letting Go of Control – Courageous leaders give others the space and opportunity to lead. Michael Witzel in his article Its Not Just Talk, You Need to Walk the Walk shares that “It takes courage to lead, or at least lead well, because you have to give up some of your power and your control to other people, and then trust that they will do the right things.” When leaders hire talented individuals into their teams they recognize that micromanaging them and limiting their autonomy will negatively impact engagement. Courageous leaders recognize that in letting go they are gaining employee engagement and ownership and fostering a culture of trust and innovation.
Making Courageous Decisions with Competence – In Jo Faragher’s article – Leadership Styles are Changing, Say Directors – she shares from her interview with Richard Chiumento of Rialto his view on courage competence. “Without data and experience, courageousness can become reckless”. Indeed, courage is a noble attitude to embrace. However, it isn’t without its pre-requisites. Courageous leaders in organizations pursuing innovation make courageous decisions based on assessed risks, expert collaboration with their team and an understanding of the market.
Managing Crisis through Pre-Work – Martin Luther King stated “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy”. Most leaders at some point are expected to lead their organization through crises. Whether of their own making, or not – they need to show up for their stakeholders who will be looking to them for direction. There are myriad behaviors associated with leadership courage in crises - objectivity, transparency, pragmatism, empathy, positivity. While all great behaviors it is my observation that human beings in crisis will revert to their instincts – and leaders who have done the meaningful pre-work of understanding their beliefs and values are able to set the tone quickly and effectively in line with their values during crisis.
Indeed, there are many paths to courage, some of which I have shared above, some more overt than others. It is my belief that the highest form of authentic leadership courage is one in which we allow ourselves to be seen as human. As Nelson Mandela shares in Richard Stengal’s book, Mandela’s Way “They should know that leaders are made of flesh and blood, that they are human.”
Afsheen Ismail-Wey is the Founder of The Phoenix Coaching Co. and an award-winning, certified Leadership Coach. After working with multinational organizations, namely Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods) and Abbott Laboratories, in the Talent and Development arena, Afsheen started her own coaching company in 2015 coaching leaders and teams in multinational organizations. She is an active member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and has served on the ICF UAE Board. Afsheen currently calls Switzerland home, has lived and worked in 7 countries in the last 20 years and coached clients across North America, Europe, Asia and MEA.