On the heels of the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I’ve been thinking a lot about the acts of courage that occurred that day. From the heroes in the theater who gave their lives to protect someone else … or the people who didn’t flee but stayed to help a stranger who was wounded … to the police officers who voluntarily ran into the violent chaos to try and capture the shooter and save lives, these were all acts of courage. They willingly put the best interests of others in front of their own.
What is Courage?
The VIA Character Institute defines Courage as the capacity to take action to aid others in spite of significant risks or dangers. Courage allows people to avoid shrinking from the threats, challenges, or pain associated with attempting to do good works. Brave acts are undertaken voluntarily with full knowledge of the potential adversity involved. Brave individuals place the highest importance on higher purpose and morality, no matter what the consequences might be.
Rosa Parks exhibited an amazing act of courage when she refused to obey the orders of a Montgomery, AL bus driver who directed her to move to the back of the bus. Even when faced with the fear of being arrested and even the possibility of being beaten, she did not back down. This single act of courage became the tipping point for extraordinary change!
What does this have to do with corporate America? A lot.
I am reminded of Enron, the largest corporate bankruptcy in history where thousands of innocent people lost jobs and their life savings. Bernie Madoff and his international investment scheme took money in excess of $50 billion from the rich and famous, universities and nonprofits, and even his own family members who trusted him with their life savings. Most recently, I think of the Penn State child abuse scandal and how leaders misused their position and either through the sin of commission or omission devastated the lives of many young boys.
What does it mean to be a courageous leader?
While there are many qualities that contribute to being a courageous leader, the following are a few I believe to be highly important.
Leads with integrity. Anyone can talk the talk, but only a strong leader can walk the walk with integrity. In an age where corporations institute policies, procedures, and boards to regulate ethical conduct within their day-to-day business, there are few things needed more than a leader who will do what they say and say what they do. A double standard in the workplace has a negative impact on productivity, efficiency, and relationships. To lead with integrity you must follow up and follow through on commitments you make to others. It is important to develop a reputation for being dependable and reliable in the small details as in the big projects.
Takes a stand. I had a boss once whose moral principle was “we may not always do things right, but we should always do the right thing.” Leaders are faced with many decisions throughout their day. Leadership takes courage and often requires making bold and unpopular decisions. Even in the midst of opposition courageous leaders are clear on what is non-negotiable. There may be some decisions that are more “profitable,” more “advantageous,” more “expected” or “acceptable,” but a courageous leader is not influenced by the easy way out. They are willing to take a stand for the right thing
Takes innovative action. Over the past three years, the economy has demanded a new kind of leader. Even in the midst of an increasingly complex business climate, companies need leaders who are not afraid to poke the box or challenge the status quo. Leaders must abandon the old philosophy “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and look for ways to create new methods, ideas, products or services to help their organization keep their competitive advantage. Anyone can follow a map, but courageous leaders seize opportunities by going out and designing the map!
I believe America needs courageous leaders. The result? The simple act of doing the right thing would have a major impact on the way we do business and interact with others. Could it possibly be the tipping point for extraordinary change in America?