When most of us think of courage we think about the person who rescues someone from a burning building, leads helpless people to safety or helps others in any number of crisis situations. Seldom do people consider themselves courageous, and in most cases, we don’t even think about that word in everyday situations.

Yet as leaders, we must be courageous if we want to make an impact, and it doesn’t take a crisis to be courageous. What do I mean? Here are five action that require courage; all of which might occur every day and each of which make us a better leader.

Asking for Feedback. If you want to know how you are doing as a precursor for improvement, you must ask for feedback. As a leader, the people who are often in the best position to give you that feedback are those that work for you. Sometimes the feedback will be hard to hear, whether it is positive or negative. Hard or not, it is needed. Be willing to open yourself up enough to ask for feedback on how you are doing; then act on what you learn.

Apologizing. “I’m sorry.” We teach our children to do it; we know it is the polite and right thing to do. Why do we so often forget or ignore this wisdom for ourselves? Somehow when we are the boss, we think we don’t need to apologize, or it somehow weakens us. Think about it this way, would you rather have a boss who apologizes for something they did wrong or went wrong, or someone who says nothing?

Sharing a mistake. Sharing mistakes, admitting mistakes or talking about mistakes we have made in the past are all actions related to apologizing but they aren’t exactly the same. Some leaders I have observed can do one far more easily than the other, which is why I have included both on this list. When we share our mistakes, we show that we are human, fallible, and real. People don’t want a perfect leader, they want a real human being to follow. (Tweet That). Beyond that the sharing of mistakes helps us learn. If you want others to share their mistakes as a way to create learning and improvement, you must be willing to share yours too, and likely will need to go first.

Delegating. Delegation is an important leadership behavior for a variety of reasons, and it is a courageous act for nearly as many. It takes courage to let go of tasks that you know how to do well. It takes courage to relinquish control for things you are ultimately responsible for. Maybe you haven’t thought about delegation in quite this way, but if you have trouble delegating, perhaps this perspective will help you grow in this area.

Offering trust. For people to follow us, they must trust us. If we want to build the amount of trust we have with others, we must extend trust to them. When we trust others they tend to trust us more. And offering or extending trust can be a really scary thing, because we don’t know if the other person will accept the trust and reciprocate it. Offering trust can look like all the other actions on this list.

We could create a longer list, but this is a great start and makes my point. Some of these actions might not seem hard or require courage for you. To the degree that you display the actions without a qualm or pause, you are being courageous without realizing it. Rather than feeling like my connection between leadership and courage is diminished, think about this: Isn’t that often the case with “real” acts of courage too? The person doing the courageous act doesn’t see it that way – they see it as their job; it is those of us watching who see it as courageous. For any of these items that you see as your job and willing do, realize that not all leaders do these things or find them easy – these are acts of courage.

And even if many or most of these don’t feel like they require courage, I’ll bet at least one of these is hard for you. If so, that is your opportunity for improvement.

Courage is defined by others, and courageous acts happen when we focus on the needs of others rather than ourselves. People follow those they believe in and trust, in those they see as selfless and yes, courageous. If you want to leader more effectively, be more courageous; even in the small moments every day.

Remarkable leaders are courageous.

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  1. Excellent post! These are terrific examples of what I call “Everyday Courage.” It’s time we brought the concept of courage down from the hero clouds and made it accessible to everyone. You don’t have to be an astronaut or warrior to experience your courage. You just have to carry on and move forward when you’re facing fearful or challenging situations.

  2. Kevin, I agree completely about the impacts of (seemingly) small behaviors having a big impact. We often focus on or read about the extraordinary. The texture of relationships is in every day human moments. The same for leaderships. I was researching something recently about courage and was reminded of Dr Brene Brown’s work. The link between vulnerability and courage is obviously very strong. Vulnerability is often the governor on courage. The battle in our own heads. Thanks for post.

  3. Great post, Kevin – enjoyed this read. No need to go looking for someone to save. It’s the every day courage that helps leaders earn respect and grow influence. As you say, there are plenty of opportunities out there. Two more that come to mind for me are:

    – The courage to admit that someone else might be right.
    – The courage to stand up for your teammates in the face of adversity

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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