Cultivating Courage

Cultivating Courage

“There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.”

Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Cowardly Lion, sojourner with the legendary Dorothy, bears one of the most oxymoronic monikers in literature and filmography.  After all, lions are known for their ferocious personalities and fearless attitude toward predators.  Yet by the end of Baum’s classic tale, this famous lion does indeed prove himself to be far from cowardly and really quite courageous.  What caused such transformation? Numerous trials over time that tested and tempered his overall character.

The tumultuous year of 2020 has turned out to be a time of trial and testing for people around the globe, giving ample opportunity to face fear and figure out how to effectively move forward.  Such analysis and planning are vital for survival and long-term success, particularly for leaders of personal and professional families.  Indeed, the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will test all travelers’ inner resolve and courage.

It is in these times of challenge when courage is actually cultivated. After all, we don’t need to be brave in order to face a blissful day, nor do we have to rally resilience to contend with the joy experienced when all is right in our lives.  Instead, courage must be mustered when times are tough, circumstances are chaotic, and future success seems doubtful.  At the end of the day, personal and professional courage are put to the test because of the hiccups, hassles, and hardships we face along life’s journey.

What is courage exactly?  Merriam-Webster defines it as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”  The team at LEADon® has worked with countless leaders as they pursued their Corporate Family® ventures while enduring many tumultuous times during the past few decades.   And we continue to be inspired by the indominable nature of the human spirit as  leaders and their teams face the current “danger and fear”  with “mental and moral strength.”

In a 2012 Psychology Today article entitled “The Six Attributes of Courage,” psychologist Melanie Greenberg writes that “courage is something that everybody wants—an attribute of good character that makes us worthy of respect” (www.psychologytoday.com).  Her words resonate with many leaders, but how can courage actually be developed?  Is it possible to become braver when, deep down, you might truly be afraid?  Here are several steps we recommend which can help foster the courage you need to meet the challenges you are facing right now:

  1. Identify Points of Weakness: All of us have leadership strengths and weaknesses, but those areas that need improvement are often the hardest to identify and acknowledge. This is especially true when attributes like bravery, valor, and fortitude are called into question since this acknowledgement can cause us to feel inadequate, or like that iconic lion, even cowardly. Perhaps most challenging, few leaders want to admit they are actually afraid.  But as L. Frank Baum so eloquently reminds us, “true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.” So, what circumstances are causing you the most anxiety right now?  Pinpoint two or three of your top concerns, worries, and fears, whether they are personal or professional.  Be honest with yourself about which areas in life would benefit from more courageous action on your part, then move on to point #2.
  2. Cultivate Your Personal and Professional Courage: While it may seem that some people are more fearless than others, everyone has had to develop this attribute  through specific experiences.  For instance, children overcome their anxiety about swimming by getting into the water and learning to swim.  Adolescents conquer the fear of public speaking by speaking in front of others.  The necessity of stepping out and doing something about a fear is equally important for adults.  In her 2007 Harvard Business Review article, “Courage as a Skill,” Kathleen K. Reardon suggests setting specific goals to accomplish seemingly impossible feats, making certain you ask yourself questions like these:   “What does success look like in this high-risk situation? Is it obtainable? If I can’t meet my primary goal, what is my secondary goal?” (see more of her article at https://hbr.org/2007/01/courage-as-a-skill—and you can find additional action items in our online course, LEADers Set Effective G.O.A.L.S.®  at LEADonUniversity.com).
  3. Enlist Help: Any type of lasting transformation not only happens through experience but also with assistance.  Remember the journey of that Cowardly Lion?  He had a team who supported him as he endeavored to feel braver. The same scenario is applicable to your real-world journey.  So, recruit the help of family, friends, and trusted colleagues as you work on the goals you’ve set for yourself.  In addition, this is an opportune time to seek out a qualified mentor if you don’t already have one. Take LEADon’s® online course, LEADing by Coaching and Mentoring®, for ideas on how to find—and become—a qualified mentor, and check out The LEADing Blog for posts on this topic (LEADonUniversity.com).
  4. Encourage Others in Your Spheres of Influence: In a post for Business Success Dynamics, author Shirley Taylor shares what so many leaders have experienced firsthand: “When you encourage others, you encourage yourself. You become stronger and influence others to believe in themselves and to do the right thing” (businesssuccessdynamics.com/2017/08/the-value-of-encouragement/). While you are implementing your new personal and professional goals, share your experiences with others.  This not only reinforces what you’re learning about courage, but it also teaches others that change is possible, even in the midst of challenging times.

As an innovative tech executive who also dealt with an extreme health crisis, Steve Jobs exhibited extraordinary personal and professional courage.  In a commencement speech given at Stanford University in June 2005, Jobs shared these insightful words:  “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” The same is true for you.  Trust what you already know about courage and implement the steps above as you strive to move forward in the days ahead. Remember, you don’t have to do all the work on your own.  Like that mislabeled lion, don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.  If the team at LEADon® can help you in this leadership journey, please contact us at www.LEADonUniversity.com or 858.592.0700.