When business coaches list the traits of great leaders, vision, passion and team building usually rise to the top. Often overlooked is courage.
Business leaders make tough choices and juggle competing priorities, which calls for courage just as much as it tests decision-making abilities.
It is courage that differentiates the person who describes her business as “juggling” tasks from the leader who handles stress efficiently and sees problems as opportunities to innovate.
Here are five ways leaders show courage:
1. Modeling risk taking. You think you’re “just” organizing a team around a new product launch? You think your company’s new blog is some random little writing experiment? Think again. It takes courage to start new initiatives, because every time you make a decision or try a new strategy, you risk being wrong in a very visible setting.
Even more bold is a leader who acknowledges that the new project might not work out. This can feel like a show of weakness, but it’s an approach that pays off in fostering loyalty and creativity within your organization. You’re sending a signal that a failed initiative isn’t going to take down the company.
2. Creating quality teams. Rather than hoard credit for good ideas, leaders practice courage when they surround themselves with talented people -- colleagues, coaches and clients -- who complement their strengths. If you’re a business owner who sees the big picture but isn’t as good at the day to day, it’s important to actively seek out the people who are better at these vital tasks than you are.
A courageous leader isn’t afraid to recognize those places where the wing people support their goal.
3. Practicing integrity. Integrity is matching your words and actions -- which can be easier said than done. If you ask your team to come in early and stay late to wrap a major project, you’re right there with them. If you say you’ll meet with a member of the team so that this person can do her job better, you make the time. You’re putting yourself out there as a model of the follow-through and drive that you want to see from your team.
Integrity shouldn’t be mistaken for perfectionism. The key is that courageous leaders don’t pretend that the rules apply to everyone but them. In this case, practicing courage is all about looking directly at yourself and taking responsibility for your behavior, even when you would rather pass the buck or pretend there isn’t a problem.
4. Emboldening others. Leaders respect and utilize multiple perspectives. They understand that not all ideas can be used for a project -- but that it’s important that people don’t feel shut down when they generate ideas and risk sharing them.
The next time you’re running a meeting and someone shares an idea that isn’t really workable, pause to share genuine appreciation for the thought that person put in. It takes courage to listen to various perspectives and encourage debate and discussion rather than dismissing ideas, even those you can't implement, as they arise.
5. Encouraging innovation and independent learning. Leaders don’t naysay, bring up every potential challenges and say things such as, “Look, I’m just being realistic.” Leaders understand that “realistic” is completely subjective, and every experience contains lessons. After all, it’s entrepreneurs who risk it all, daring to dream big and jumping into action.
How does any leader, from a new manager at the bottom of the totem poll to a rapidly rising star, step into greater authority? By leading with courage. Ask yourself which of these qualities are your strengths and where you might shore up more reserves to become something great.