In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter looked at the connection between courage and leadership. Her article, “Courage in the C-Suite,” was written for and about high-level leaders in corporations.
I saw, however, a broader application in some of the principles she articulated. Indeed, some of the principles hit home for me.
Leading with Courage
Anyone in a significant place of leadership must be courageous to be an effective leader. Clichés abound about the challenge of leadership: “It’s lonely at the top”; “It’s tough to be in the leader’s shoes”; and “Leaders must make the difficult decisions.” But the reason those clichés exist is that there are elements of truth in all of them. And the common theme evident in each of them is the need for courageous leadership.
Expounding upon the HBR article, let’s look more specifically at four different types of courage all leaders must demonstrate.
Four Aspects of Courageous Leadership
In the last few months, we’ve heard reports of several child sexual abuse cases. I even wrote a recent article on the issue. While the act of sexual abuse is morally reprehensible itself, additionally disconcerting has been the failure of high-level leaders to respond to the problem. Too many times, we were told that leaders knew about the problem but decided to take the cowardly path and sweep it under the rug.
1. The first and foremost requisite courage needed for leaders is moral courage.
Courage is defined simply as “acting on principle.” Leaders lose all of their credibility if they do not demonstrate this courage. Leaders first must do that which is right. Every other act or decision is secondary.
2. Great leaders must also demonstrate selfless courage.
Effective leaders will seek to put employees, the organization, and others before themselves. Their first concern is not their own job security, their paycheck, or their ego. Jim Collins described this type of leader in his recent book, Great by Choice: “They’re ambitious, to be sure, but for a purpose beyond themselves, be it building a great company, changing the world, or achieving some great objective that’s ultimately not about them.”