Contemporary Thinking About Courage in Leadership
A couple of months ago I introduced the topic “How Do You Know You’re Ethical?” If you are now ready to take the next step of making a request of your colleagues to uphold an ethical standard, or perhaps to start a discussion about what the group’s ethical standards should be, then you’re going to need some COURAGE.
The September issue of Fast Company magazine is devoted to this essential, but rare quality of leaders and followers who want to guide their organization along a path of integrity. If this is the path for you, I strongly encourage you to read Fast Company’s “Courage Issue” to inspire your journey along that road sometimes forgotten.
Here is small sample of the insights contained in that issue:
“In business, in politics, in journalism, in the military—in any organization large or small—there seem to be few incentives to stand on principle today. Doing so, speaking up for what I believed was right, I learned, can be a profoundly isolating experience, which may be why, whether at Abu Ghraib or in the spate of corporate scandals, leaders try to pass the buck rather than accept responsibility for their actions and those of their subordinates. The act of thrusting oneself into a kind of professional purgatory can feel like self-immolation.” —David Brock
We live in a country where the collective lack of courage has infected the language itself. We don’t demand honesty and accountability from our leaders; not surprisingly, our leaders conclude that we can’t handle the truth. Today, more than ever, we need people with the courage to tell the plain truth. We need brave men and women who refuse to trumpet the platitudes, or take stale ideas off the rack. . . Telling the truth of course, can carry heavy penalties: condemnation, ostracism, slander, the end of careers. Telling the truth often requires as much courage as that of the foot soldier, the police officer, the firefighter. . . . That’s why we must cherish these people who have the guts to speak the truth: mavericks, whistle blowers, disturbers of the public peace.” —Pete Hamill
“Except at the margins, courage is not a product of individual behavior . . . .Courage is a function of feeling part of a social fabric, of a network that’s going to do something that has never been done before. People do gutsy things because they’re in a group. . . They’re all in this together. . . . Leaders articulate those goals and incarnate the behavior through symbolic conduct to get people to follow. When Cicero spoke, people marveled; when Caesar spoke, people marched. Getting people to march behind your ideas takes courage.” —Warren Bennis
“You have to have a gang of believers, folks who can take on the resistance and share in some of the courageous acts with you. Otherwise, it’s too lonely and you can’t make it.” —Noel Tichy
“Either life entails courage, or it ceases to be life.” —E.M. Forster
“Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.” —Clare Boothe Luce
In a future issue of Daring Doctors, we’ll take this topic of upholding ethical standards further and discuss HOW you can raise awareness and influence behavior in your organization. For now, start mustering up your courage.