3 February 2008

Courage in Leadership

What does it take to be a courageous leader? Courageous leaders differentiate themselves by how they take on new challenges. It does not take a lot of courage to run day to day operations. No doubt, running day to day operations is pretty challenging too. But leaders exhibit their true courage on how they deal with adverse and contentious situations. Here are the top 10 traits that I have observed in the leaders that I have considered to be truly courageous:
1. Exhibit Optimism: Courageous leaders are calm and have a “can do and will do” attitude that permeates a steely resolve in the teams.
2. Inspire and Influence: Courageous leaders focus on inspiring and influencing people by showing them the higher goals and giving them the resources to reach them instead of falling back on the command and control model. Command and control often gives quick results but the results have a short life.
3. Avoid Saying “Both”: Courageous leaders are not afraid of prioritizing. Faced with a myriad of choices, they adroitly focus the organization on a few goals.
4. Seek to Understand: Courageous leaders cut across teams and tie them together to a greater goal. The most valuable trait in building cross-organization teams is the ability to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. They understand that opposing views are necessary to make any forward progress.
5. Guts to get into the details: Courageous leaders do not consider themselves “above” certain operational details. While they do not unempower their teams, they have no difficulty into diving in whenever they need to. This rule is possibly the one that I have seen most managers fail on as they climb up the corporate ladder.
6. Willing to admit there might be a better way: Courageous leaders are willing to take risks, fail early (and cheap) and learn from them quickly. It is this openness to the idea that they might be wrong that makes them far more capable of adopting change. This trait also tends to make better listeners out of them.
7. Avoid going for the “perfect decision”: Courageous leaders understand that the trick to making the “right” decision is to make a decision quickly and then executing on it like crazy to make that the “right” decision. Nobody runs a control experiment side by side with the alternates. Get enough data and use gut rather than wait for all the data – is their usual motto.
8. Being “Right” versus being “Successful”: Faced with contentious situations, courageous leaders focus individuals and teams on what will make all of them “successful” rather than how they can be “right”. In today’s intelligence-based industries, where individuals are valued for their personal intelligence, it is often difficult for one to give up on what one believes is “right” for the greater good of being successful as a company.
9. Personal Ego: Courageous leaders focus on not aligning personal ego with a particular viewpoint. At the end of the debate, the leader thus, does not believe that he or she fell in grace by “losing” a point. This prevents him or her from arguing beyond a logical point (where making forward progress becomes more important than going more threadbare on the arguments). Conversely, they are careful to criticize viewpoints and not people.
10. Org charts: Finally, courageous leaders have scant respect for positions, roles, business cards and org charts. They realize that the right people – regardless of their position – need to be brought in to craft solutions. They understand that most problems cannot be solved by “re-drawing” boxes. So, they focus on getting teams across organizations to come together, get aligned on a common goal and give them the support and air cover to make mistakes to achieve those goals.

What have you learnt in your career as true courage in leadership?


Posted February 3, 2008 by Rajib Roy in category "Reflections

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