It takes courage to lead. Are you ready to take the leap?

What is your greatest fear? Perhaps it’s spiders, or heights (that’s one of my favourites), or one of the most common fears in the workplace – fear of public speaking. Whatever it is that really scares you, it’s always more helpful to lean in instead of pulling away.

Moving towards the things you’re afraid of can be scary, but have you ever regretted it when you’ve done this? I haven’t, because I’ve discovered that when I face my fears, the things that scare me are really not as bad as I thought they would be. And there’s the boost in confidence that comes from getting to the other side.

Be prepared, it’s not going to be comfortable to walk right into the things that scare you most. This is a key message from Brené Brown.

You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.
– Brené Brown

On holiday in India a few years ago, I had the chance to fly down a mountain on a flying fox. Not a little flying fox like the ones we played on as kids, but a long, steep, scary flying fox which takes you straight over the edge of a cliff.  You’re probably thinking the end of this story is that I took the leap and faced my fear – but I didn’t. I confess I was paralysed with terror, and I just couldn’t fly off the cliff.

I think about this sometimes and I don’t have any regrets about not doing the flying fox. Why would I? I stayed in my comfort zone and it feels perfectly fine here. But I’m absolutely sure I wouldn’t have regretted it if I had taken the leap. And what an amazing experience I would have had. Next time, I’m going over the cliff.

Courage is an ethical virtue

The virtues practiced by great leaders are many. It’s these ethical virtues that set them apart as great leaders. I see courage as the essential virtue for a leader because, as Maya Angelou says, without courage, we cannot practice any other virtues with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
– Maya Angelou

This is a pretty comprehensive list of virtues for any leader, but I would add: authentic, respectful and humble. These three virtues take a great deal of courage too. To show your true self in your leadership role, to lead in a way that demonstrates respect for the contribution of others, and to stay humble, is not easy. But without these leadership virtues, there is no real leadership.

As an authentic leader you are true to yourself and what you stand for. If this is different from what others want or need, you might not always be popular.  But taking a stand and being yourself is ultimately unavoidable. You can only be some-one you’re not for so long before the cracks begin to show.

A courageous leader knows that leadership is not about them. Leadership is really about what you can do to guide and support others, so that together you can have an impact in the world. A little bit of humility can go a long way.

Five practices to face your fears and lead courageously

Here are five ways to cultivate courage. These practices can be truly transformative if you’re ready to take the leap. But they only work if you put them into practice. Enter the water and take the risk!

1. Face your fears

You will never regret it if you face your fears instead of turning away. Staying in your comfort zone might feel safe and familiar, but what opportunities are you missing by staying there?

2. Be vulnerable

Leaning in to the things you’re afraid of will definitely make you feel vulnerable. Leaning in also brings new fears – fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of showing your weaknesses. Lean in further.

3. Be honest

Honesty starts by being honest with yourself. Self-deception can be very tricky to spot, so when it comes to owning up to your failings, it’s helpful to talk openly about this with some-one you trust. You might get a more positive response to your honesty than you expect.

4. Be yourself

One important way to be honest is by being yourself. Authenticity is a challenging practice for leaders. How much of yourself is it appropriate to show? At the end of the day, you can only be who you are, but you also need to be professional. Decide where that line is for you.

5. Keep going

Taking the leap and having courage in the way you lead will inevitably trip you up. The goal is not to be prefect – quite the opposite. Great leaders are imperfect and they’re ok with that. Courageous leaders fail often, but they get right back up again and keep leading.

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Transforming Resilience Program helps participants make deep and lasting change by learning what resilience really is and how to put it into practice.  

© Maria Brett, 2022