What is the most important quality of leadership? What comes to mind right away? Is it honesty, integrity, determination or something else? To me it’s courage. I would argue that without courage none of these other qualities could take root and flourish. Courage is the foundation or earth upon which all great leadership is built. Of course we can’t have a conversation about courage without discussing fear. Fear is alive and well in the corporate world – fear of being fired, fear of overstepping the line, fear of the not getting the promotion, fear of not making an impact and the list goes on. We live in a world where fear is on the rise and courage is in short supply.
I want to start by sharing a personal story so you understand my relationship with courage and fear. Do you remember how in school there were three social groups? There was the ‘in’ crowd, the ‘out’ crowd and the ‘so weird even out people wouldn’t talk to them’ crowd. Which one were you in? Unfortunately I was in the third one. I was teased and bullied so much, that every day I was terrified to even go to school. You see I evolved into the lion I am today because I had no other choice. Every scar they gave me made me stronger. I had to become fierce and unflinching just to survive. This article and so much of the work that I do everyday is for that scared little girl and the scared child in all of us. Now you know…this was my ‘Oprah confession’ moment (I miss her show so much!). I hope you don’t think any less of me.
Courage is born out of adversity. The more you walk through fire, the stronger you get. It’s going to take the COURAGE of a lion to overcome your obstacles, overtake your competition and ultimately win at whatever you set your mind to. Because without fear you become UNSTOPPABLE.~ Narges Nirumvala
Let’s now look at the landscape of leadership and in broad strokes, see how courage helps us become better leaders and makes our organizations stronger:
Courage to fight for what you believe in.
So many great leaders in history have been fueled by this kind of courage from Sir Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. You must be willing to fight for what’s right even against insurmountable odds. So often in today’s corporate world it isn’t a grand historical or political battle. It might be fighting for someone on your team or a project you believe in passionately. You might be fighting quietly behind closed doors and may even go unrecognized, but you do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do.
Courageous leaders are willing to confront injustice and fight for what’s right. You don’t switch your principles on and off depending on the situation. ~ Narges Nirumvala
Courage to compromise.
This one is a little more difficult. As a leader of courage there are times when you must be willing to compromise – not your principles, but your expectations. Do you see the difference? Sometimes you win by helping everyone get something that they want.
The courageous leader finds the MIDDLE ROAD and if it doesn’t exist he makes one. You don’t always have to get your own way to win. ~ Narges Nirumvala
Courage to stand out in a crowd.
Courageous leaders have a strong executive presence. They don’t blend in and become invisible. People feel their presence when they walk into a room before they’ve said a single word. Have ever watched a lion walk? Ever watched a sheep walk? The difference is night and day. You want to be the lion.
Courage to remain silent.
Sometimes courage is keeping your mouth shut when every ounce of energy inside of you is screaming to to be heard. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, trust me I know, but it’s a skill you must master. The ability to just “shut up and survive another day” is priceless in leadership.
Courage to be honest and speak your mind in a boardroom full of “yes” men and women.
Our boardrooms are still full of compliant, amiable ‘do anything to please the boss’ leaders. People who shy away from almost every confrontation and never want to ‘rock the boat’.
As a courage leader being able to rock the boat is in your job description. You must be willing to speak the truth, especially when the stakes are high. It takes real courage to be HONEST and tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. ~ Narges Nirumvala
Courage to make unpopular decisions.
We’ve seen a whole movement recently towards being ‘liked’ and ‘likeable’ thanks to social media and our obsession with acceptance and gaining self worth from the outside rather than from within.
Courageous leaders have the confidence to make unpopular and difficult decisions that will not gain them acceptance or popularity, but will gain them RESPECT. ~ Narges Nirumvala
Courage to break the rules and make new ones.
Sometimes you must be willing to break the rules, especially the ones that don’t work, so you can make new ones. This takes courage because you’re probably going to be in the situation where ask for forgiveness not permission. Just remember to break the rules but still remain within ethic bounds of society. It’s a risk, but it may be a risk worth taking if it means you take your organization or department to the next level. Only you can make that decision.
Courage to recognize and nurture talent greater than your own.
This is the stuff that HR dreams are made of. Many leaders pay lip service to this type of courage, but very few actually do it justice. The most successful leaders are the ones who recognize and promote talent that is equal or greater than their own.
Courageous leaders are not afraid of being eclipsed by people more talented than themselves, because they want what’s best not for themselves but for the organization. They see leadership as a SERVICE to others not as a testimony to their own ego. ~ Narges Nirumvala
I to want leave you with one of my favourite quotes about courage and fear. One of the greatest gifts my Mother gave me was a love of books. As a child I loved reading and listening to the works of Shakespeare (and I still do). Here’s a quote that has stayed with me everyday of my life. Through all the tough times I thought of these words and they gave me strength:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths, The valiant never taste of death but once.” ~ Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)
One more important point – you’ll see that in addition to courage you need good judgement so you know when to speak up and when to shut up or when to fight and when to compromise. The best source of good judgement and common sense that I know is real world experience. Don’t get me wrong an education definitely helps, but nothing can replace years of failure and success as a teacher. So work and hustle until your fear diminishes, your judgement improves and you become the unstoppable, fearless leader I know you are capable of being.
Called ‘The Secret Weapon’ by one journalist, Narges Nirumvala is a world renowned leadership communication expert and international speaker. She is the CEO of ExecutiveSpeak Coaching International and author of the bestselling book “Capture the Spotlight”. Narges works with executives and leadership teams to help them find their authentic voice and speak the language of leadership. Narges has received numerous accolades; most recently she was nominated for the 2016 Wendy McDonald Awards as Community Catalyst.