During a hiking trip in a remote mountain range, a narrow but deep canyon cut my trail. I hiked northwards along the canyon lip, but found no passage. An hour later, having retraced my steps and gone further south, I found a lightning-felled Ponderosa pine that spanned the canyon. It was sixty feet long, thick and strong, and anchored in place by its remaining roots.
The first ten feet were easy, as the log was on solid ground. During the thirty feet over the chasm, however, I was filled with anxiety. Physically, things were the same – the log was strong, my feet were steady, and my eyes were clear. But the height changed my perspective, and my mind and emotions went straight to fear. I had to summon courage to stay on my path.
Effective leadership is not fearless, but courageous, as Mark Twain wrote, “Courage is resilience to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” But how does one develop courage? How is courage for leadership enhanced? Here are seven important clues for developing courage.
Collaboration: it is neither necessary nor wise to tackle all your challenges alone. Tap your team, community, mentor, or coach in order to get support, perspective, ideas, and guidance. You will still face your challenge on your own, but not alone.
Outcome: keep your eye on the goal; don’t look down!! The negativity we focus on grows and expands in our experience. Concentrate on the outcome rather than the fear.
Understanding: look within yourself to the root of the fear. Most non-physical dangers are threats to our basic needs for social and emotional safety, control, connection, or self-expression.
Repetition: courage develops by doing courageous acts. Successful performances of self-mastery and courage strengthen your expectation of further success.
Assessment: what is the cost of being held back by fear? Is there a cost to your career, company, team, family, sense of self?
Go-for-it: analysis paralysis seems like an honorable alternative to courage. Assessing and designing a thousand ways to act is not strategy, its fear. At some point you simply have to take action, maybe even the wrong action. In fact, that may be what you’re afraid of…
Experiment: how might you chunk down your goal – break it down your goal into smaller steps, with each step requiring a progressively greater amount of courage?
If you’re a leader, you ought to work withexecutive coach to step back from your thoughts and fears and objectively decide on what’s best for you and your team. Even if it scares you!