Exploring why courage is one of the most important traits of great leadership.
During uncertain times, one of the most important leadership qualities in a leader’s arsenal is courage. When thinking back over our career, many of us can remember that one charismatic, entrepreneurial leader who managed to turn challenges into exciting opportunities, and generate growth out of uncertainty. What’s more, they managed to motivate everyone to join them on that journey. That’s what courage looks like: not letting fear hold us back or get in the way of change.
However, being a courageous leader doesn’t just happen naturally. When faced with challenges or difficult situations, we are all hardwired to revert to what feels safe, and stick to tried-and-tested strategies. But leadership requires moving forward and taking action, and true entrepreneurial leaders must lean into their courageous side to do so.
Courage can take many forms, and emerge under different sets of circumstances. This makes it harder for many of us to identify with this particular trait, or to even believe we have a courageous side at all. “Being brave doesn’t mean being fearless,” says Claire Koryczan, founder at Imagine Beyond. “Courage isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about having a vision, and taking action to make it happen, regardless of how uncomfortable we are.”
What does courage look like for an entrepreneurial leader?
At Imagine Beyond, we truly believe that everyone has what it takes to be an inspiring, courageous leader. The kind of person who shows determination, who makes things happen and isn’t afraid to do the right thing. Before it can become second nature, courage is a skill that has to be used and developed. “There are 12 main traits that make up entrepreneurial leadership,” says Claire. “It’s just about learning to surface each of them a bit more,” she adds.
Knowing what these attributes are and being able to apply them in a business context are two very different things. Yet, when faced with difficult decisions to make, most of us are able to act in a courageous way. This could mean staying the course, even when it’s hard or unpopular, or making difficult decisions by stepping into our power. It could mean saying no when everyone else is saying yes, or choosing the least popular option when it proves to be best for the organisation, its employees’ wellbeing or its customers’ needs.
Showing courage doesn’t have to be as bold as openly attacking a competitor’s market or restructuring the entire organisation. It can sometimes be as simple as challenging assumptions, or not giving up when faced with setbacks. For some of us, it could mean taking a stand when injustice occurs or staying true to our boundaries. For others, it could mean letting go of a client, an employee or a supplier who doesn’t fit their organisational values, or implementing new ways of working that will benefit the organisation in the future, even if the change is unpopular.
Why is courage necessary in leadership?
The last few years have made it incredibly hard for leaders to look after businesses and their employees. But when uncertainty hits, courage allows people to deal with difficult situations in a way that will make a positive impact in the long-run, rather than simply take the safe route or focus on immediate, remedial action. It helps leaders to stay true to their vision despite the many curve balls thrown at them, and to avoid the kind of knee-jerk reactions that would ultimately pull the organisation away from its objectives.
Whilst passively agreeing, resisting change or sticking to well-known ways of doing things may seem like lower risk options during a crisis, these can actually prove to be very costly strategies. We’ve seen it happen for several organisations throughout the pandemic: those who didn’t adapt to the new reality were quickly left behind. The only way to generate growth and innovation, and to protect the organisation’s future is to avoid retreating into our comfort zone. Leadership involves moving forward, taking action, and experimenting with new ways to reach our goals. Leaders need to own that place of discomfort in order to make the kind of high-stakes decisions that are required of them.
Curiosity as a tool for courageous leaders
“Judgement kills brave spaces.” – Brenée Brown
By their very nature, entrepreneurial leaders push themselves out of their comfort zone on a regular basis. “There is a very fine line between fear and excitement,” adds Claire. “And curiosity is the bridge between the two.” Leaders can often retreat or step away from being courageous as they fear being judged, or don’t feel safe. Yet when faced with difficult situations, great leaders use their innate curiosity as a tool to move away from passivity and towards action. They ask themselves what is holding them back, and dig into it in more depth. They are self-aware, and explore the situation to try and discover new and innovative ways to grow and move forward.
So next time you are faced with discomfort, find out what is stopping you from making the best decision for your business and your people. Then, get curious and find new ways to shift things around, and turn challenges into exciting opportunities.
Being an authentic leader requires courage
“Entrepreneurial leadership is a leadership style that taps into you. It’s not about trying to be the leader everyone wants you to be,” says Claire. “It’s about staying true to yourself, and calling upon the qualities and traits you already possess in order to lead in an authentic way,” she adds. Whilst many of us might not see ourselves as being courageous, we at Imagine Beyond disagree. Leading with courage is a choice; a choice that has to be made every day, again and again. It requires consciously opting for growth over comfort, seizing opportunities even when the future feels uncertain and facing hard things in order to stay in alignment with our purpose and our true self. It’s about asking ourselves what we would do if we weren’t afraid, and getting on it.
Courage is an essential trait of an entrepreneurial leadership mindset, but it is not the only one. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, in which we explore what curiosity means in a business leadership context. Why not take a look at our other articles.
If you would like to know more about what it means to be an entrepreneurial leader, have a look here.