Nobody wants to work for a wimp. If the boss is always anxious and uncertain, more prone to wringing his or her hands than taking decisive action, what message does that send to employees?

Poor leadership can be a sign to employees that they're on a sinking ship or--for those workers whose mission in life is to do as little as possible--that they can get away with pretty much anything because the boss doesn't have the guts to fire them.

Admittedly, these are extreme examples. The point is, leading a company--especially in a challenging business climate--requires real courage. It takes grit. And your employees won't rally behind you unless they see that you've got it.

What Is Courageous Leadership?
Courage means different things in different situations. For small-business owners operating in today's tough environment, courage can be defined in the following ways:

  • The ability to make a decision and act, even when you're operating in unfamiliar territory. To weigh out the pros and cons and, even when there is no perfect solution, determine what you can live with and take the appropriate action.
  • The strength to make painful but necessary cuts, whether laying off employees or "firing" unprofitable customers. For example, one member of my peer advisory group recently moved his company out of a prestigious corporate park into a much less impressive, but more affordable, space over an athletic complex. That took guts.
  • The willingness to invest in new ventures and take on risk. Another entrepreneur in that same peer group is taking the opposite approach: She's expanding her company. She's hiring new employees and upgrading her office space. That takes guts, too, especially now.
  • The ability to delegate responsibility to employees. That means you must be able to accept their mistakes, too. Just make sure everyone learns from them.
  • The honesty to admit when you've made a mistake. Don't let pride make you forge ahead in the wrong direction. Own up to your errors so you can correct them.
  • The willingness to entertain new ideas and challenge your own assumptions. The business world is changing. In order to stay ahead of it, you need to be able to change your perceptions.

Forging Ahead
The recession has forced many entrepreneurs to draw on hidden reservoirs of courage. But it has left others shaken and less confident. They curled up in a ball and let the storm pass overhead. If it worked as a survival tactic, that's okay. But now it's time to get up, dust off, and get back to work.

You can't grow your business without taking risk. Think back to your early days. Obviously, you weren't afraid of risk back then, or you wouldn't have gone into business in the first place.

What was different back then? Chances are, you had less to lose, and that includes your employees. Stop focusing on what you have to lose and think of what you have to gain. Try channeling some of your early entrepreneurial spirit.

I'm not suggesting you put on an act; employees can spot a boss who is faking it from a mile away. I'm saying that if you've been operating in a reactive mode, it's time to become more proactive.

Start by taking baby steps. Delegate some new projects to employees. Take some small, fairly safe risks. If there are business problems you've been avoiding, deal with them. Create some momentum.

In business and in life, courage is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.

For a free copy of my Expanding Your Vision Worksheet, please write to rspropres@aol.com.