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Leaders should display courage

All leaders are called upon to make decisions that they would rather not make; the unpopular and painful ones.

Systems Think Sam Hlabati

However, making decisions is what makes a leader. Leaders who do not have the guts to make decisions are eventually unsuccessful, thanks to their indecisiveness and the endless paralysis analysis they get themselves into.

There are clichés such as “the leadership duty is a lonely task”; “leadership shoes are too big to fill” which are all premised on the cognition of the fact that leaders have to make tough decisions in the interest of the common good.

I would say that leaders need courage to make decisions more than they need most other traits.

Let us start off by understanding what courage is in the context of leadership. Resilience and consistence in acting in pursuit of a defined principled goal is what sums up leadership courage.

The quickest way for a leader to lose credibility is through the failure to demonstrate courage when the need to do so in making a decision arises.

The courage has to be ready to do what is right and not necessarily popular.

An example could be that of a leader who decides against expenditure on a “nice to have” item such as buying luxuries such as teak wood dumb valets for a team of senior managers and opting to save the money for other uses.

The other element of leadership courage is for the leader to seek to put employees, the organisation, and others before themselves. A leader’s primary concern should not be their own job security, their perks and perquisites.

A leader should be ambitious in a purpose beyond themselves such as building a great company or promoting good corporate citizenship.

When a leader displays courage, they will not necessarily simply respond to orders from above, rather they challenge conventional wisdom, and endeavour to think beyond “the way we have always done it,” instead they set aside time to imagine new possibilities.

Courageous leaders enter action with boldness, for they act quickly and decisively, not waiting until all facts before they take action.

They are not reckless or irresponsible; they simply understand that indecisiveness can paralyze and demoralize an organization. Timidity leads to mediocrity.

What would set a courageous leader apart from the rest? It is their belief in themselves; which allows them to gain courage and confidence by every experience in which they look fear in the face.

I believe the only time you become a courageous leader, you will know it if you can say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along”, as once said by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Courage is a virtue every leader worth their salt should have, according to Aristotle; courage is the first virtue because it makes all other virtues possible.

Leadership requires courage because a leader must step up to the podium and take the initiative. Leading people requires the courage to make decisions even if they are unpopular. When one is in a leadership position, one must have the courage to believe in the competencies of others and let go of the need to control. Leadership thought leaders constantly talk about the need to delegate.

The reason why leaders do not delegate is not just because the people under them are not competent, rather it is because the leaders themselves do not have the courage to let go. It takes courage to let others be responsible for action whilst you retain the ultimate accountability.

Here is quick list of what would be acts of courage that you could put into action as a leader;

Keep quiet and let others speak even if you think they are wrong;
Stand up for what is right even if your opinion is unpopular;
Delegate with confidence, do not hold onto all decision making power;
Say what you mean, and mean what you say;
Take responsibility for your actions, stop looking for scapegoats;
Ask not what you could get but rather what you could do to help the situation;
Give credit where credit is due; even if you think it makes others look smarter than you; and
Maintain your integrity even when temptation abounds; do what is good even if no one is watching; I mean even if there is no opportunity to score publicity

When mustering the courage to take responsibility for what has gone wrong there are good examples in the actions of Michael H. McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, who in August 2008 stood in front of reporters and cameras to accept responsibility for the contaminated meat debacle that resulted in numerous deaths, he undoubtedly dug deep and mustered courage.

Another was Southwest Airlines CEO James Parker who went against the industry job-slashing trend following 9/11 when he courageously announced, just three days after 9/11 that he would keep all employees and start a profit-sharing programme for them.

The courage of a leader goes beyond being courageous themselves; it goes to inspire those that follow the leader. In a speech in 1933, American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, addressing a nation mired in a depression and on the verge of a world war, famously stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In volatile economies on the African continent, where the future of organisations and their members is not predictable and is at the mercy of factors such as economic depressions and unstable markets; what are the leaders telling their teams.

Do you tell your team to muster courage to fight against the odds to keep your organisation afloat? Do you tell them words like those of the first century Epictetus who said, “It is not death or pain that is to be dreaded, but the fear of pain or death.” Maybe you could share the words from the sixteenth century that are attributed to Francis Bacon who is said to have remarked that, “Nothing is terrible except fear itself.”

It is the wise person who accepts that fear is a very real part of life, and it must be faced and overcome with courage. By taking action in the face of fear, he or she achieves results and becomes more courageous.

American president, Harry S. Truman, said it this way: “The worst danger we face is the danger of being paralyzed by doubts and fears. This danger is brought on by those who abandon faith and sneer at hope. It is brought on by those who spread cynicism and distrust and try to blind us to our great chance to do good for all mankind.”
One of leaders’ biggest misconceptions is that courage equals a lack of fear. In actuality, the opposite is true. Mark Twain explained, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Leaders have to admit their fear, and then they can then challenge its accuracy. Take the next step, make that dreadful decision and manage the consequences. As George Smith Patton, Jr, USA Army General during World War II said;

“The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!”

Stop planning about the required action until you end up planning about the plan to plan the planning process, get something done now!

Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). E-mail samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlab

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