Three strategies to become a courageous leader now

What businesses and stakeholders need now more than ever before is courageous, empathetic, trustworthy and inspiring leadership.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." "Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance." -- Brene Brown 

Leading amidst a global pandemic is like learning to ride a bike again.  No matter how strong your muscle memory, keeping yourself -- and your organization -- upright and moving forward on shaky ground requires training new leadership muscles.  Because the same muscles used in the same ways are unlikely to get new results.  No matter how hard you keep pedaling.

What obstacles do you see as you scan the horizon?  How can you become the courageous leader your team needs now?  And what's the one question every courageous leader must ask?

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." --Franklin D. Roosevelt

Courageous Leadership Defined

"A courageous leader is an individual who's capable of making themselves better and stronger when the stakes are high and circumstances turn against that person," says Harvard Business School Professor Nancy Koehn. "Most of our lives, we're beset by crises. Courageous leaders are not cowed or intimidated. They realize in the midst of turbulence, there lies an extraordinary opportunity to grow and rise."


Nancy Koehn, Harvard Business Professor 

Jay Godwin

Courageous leaders are also authentic, adaptive, and attuned to the needs of those around them.  And they recognize what others often miss: when the future looks uncertain, courageous leaders create the future rather than cling to the past.    

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage." -- Maya Angelou

Courageous Leadership Strategy #1:  Practice and Coach Resilience

How many times did you fall off your bike when you were learning to ride? Just like you dusted yourself off and got back on your bike, courageous leaders demonstrate the same behavior of getting up and trying again. 

"100% of people react to stress," explains Jeff Ton, IT Strategist and author of Amplify Your Value. "Yet how one responds and the ability to remain resilient in the accumulation of stress is what leaders need to be aware of right now."


Jeff Ton, IT Strategist and author of Amplify Your Value

Resilience is a coachable skill – a leadership muscle that can be developed. Ton recommends calling to mind an example of a time in the past when you were resilient. And then get curious about what enabled you to demonstrate resilience using an exercise called "The 4S's." Draw a quadrant and write one of these statements in each quadrant. Filter your past success through the lens of these attributes to decipher your resilience profile:

  • Supports that kept you upright
  • Strategies that kept you moving
  • Sagacity that gave you comfort and hope
  • Solution-Seeking behaviors you demonstrated

Coach the approach using this quadrant with your employees and people you mentor as well. Develop and deploy your resilience strategy in your current context.

Courageous Leadership Strategy #2: Swing the Pendulum

Leading and coaching in crisis mode is not a sustainable strategy. Now that the adrenaline-fueled phase of pandemic leadership is past, consider how your priorities pendulum needs to swing between these points on the continuum. Tenured CIO Jamie Lee finds these three questions help to keep what matters most in balance:

  • How much time do I need to invest now working on the business vs. working in the business?
  • How much time do I need to invest now operating the company vs. leading the company?
  • How do roles and responsibilities -- including my own -- need to evolve throughout the company as a result?

Inherent in the answer to each question is a call to action to evaluate how decisions are made now. Where time is best invested now. How frequently priorities are revisited now. And how these inflection points are communicated broadly throughout your organization. When circumstances shift, courageous leaders purposefully shift how they spend their time, how they communicate which expectations have shifted and why.

Courageous Leadership Strategy #3: Ask Better Questions

Courageous leaders ask great questions. The kind of questions that point to the nature of how things work. Even if the answers may be difficult to hear or to action initially.

The most courageous question any leader can ask right now is just two words. Why not?

Simon Sinek famously inspired leaders to Start With Why and discover your purpose. Now it's time to courageously ask 'Why not?' To challenge your limiting beliefs. What made you successful in the past. And to courageously create a successful future for and with your organization.

Karen Mangia recently joined Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and me on our weekly show DisrupTV to discuss how to become a courageous and more effective leader. 

What are you discovering about courageous leadership in a distributed work world?  We invite you to share your ideas with us and our community @karenmangia and @valaafshar

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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