Courage –You can’t lead without it!

The research is overwhelming––courage is one of the most identifiable traits of an effective leader. People respect leaders with courage and are much more likely to trust someone they view as courageous.

So can you train yourself to be more courageous and just as important, can you, as a leader, help cultivate and develop courage in others––especially in your next generation of aspiring and emerging leaders?

Well––yes. And it’s simple––it’s just not easy.

How do you develop courage?

Well, it doesn’t happen by accident. Not usually anyway.

Sure, there are stories about people spontaneously discovering incredible courage, especially heroism, when the need arises. I’ve studied many of these cases and I have to say that in the overwhelming majority, there is a strong pattern that almost makes heroic courage inevitable.

It’s that pattern we want to focus on.

The newly minted hero may have never been exposed to the level of risk or extreme danger that defines their courageous act. However––scratch the surface and you’ll usually find a distinct pattern. This pattern includes opportunities to test one’s courage––that is the willingness to act in the face of fear, risk or danger. This pattern often starts early and includes many “managed” exposures to an increasing scale of risk and danger. Sports provides these opportunities for many people––as does public service, academic challenges and encouragement to test and challenges one’s limits early and often.

If you haven’t had sufficient opportunities to test your limits in the past––it’s time to get started!

There are no short cuts to courage. It’s about finding and embracing new challenges and new opportunities to take chances and grow.

And it’s sometimes about failure and fear. No risk––no danger––no courage.

No fear––no courage. This process doesn’t just include fear, it requires it! Courage is certainly not the absence of fear. The absence of fear is stupidity! Courage is your ability to act in spite of your fear.

Identify a new challenge or opportunity that causes you a little fear––and go for it!

Start with “manageable risk.” That is, start with something that pushes your limits a bit, but will not be destructive if you fail.

Win or lose, analyze the results and repeat the process.

Now for the $64 million question. How can you help others develop courage?

Same process––you just share it with the people you serve. You design the environment that grows leaders. You provide manageable exposure to risk and danger from which leaders emerge.

Identify tasks and challenges that can be delegated to aspiring leaders with containable levels of risk to the organization.

Find opportunities for creative solutions that can be handled by emerging leaders with little or no input from senior. 

And again… Win or lose, analyze the results and repeat the process. However now you serve as the “Sensei,” the mentor who will help your protege learn and grow from the experience.

There is one more key responsibility in this process––one that cannot be delegated.

Provide the encouragement, subtle guidance and support necessary to give your emerging leaders a fighting chance. You will not stand in the way of failure, but will stand ready to help wring the lessons out of any defeat and recognize any accomplishments, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time.

This is what it means to be a “Sensei Leader.” It means teaching without doing the work for your “students.” It means providing the environment that cultivates courage. It means recognizing achievement and supporting constructive failure as equal opportunities for growth and progress.

And most of all, it means walking the walk!

If you want others to be courageous, be courageous yourself. 

There is no way around it––people follow examples much more than orders. You cannot implement courage by edict. If you want to develop courage in the people you serve––you have to live it.

Like I said––simple. Not easy!

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, Leadership Activist, and founder of The SENSEI LEADER Movement™. He’s the author of 8 leadership books, and hosts Walking The Walk, a ... Web: Details