Three Courages of a Leader

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You’re a leader – every single person in the world has leadership responsibility. Not least, it is up to you to decide how you’re going to live.  And lead.

Courage Card

From earliest childhood we are taught the imperative of self control, the need to have boundaries and live within them. And we also learn that others want power over us, and will do all sorts of things to get it. 

In civil societies we are not so free to do just what we like. We are taught that conforming is the way. We find the desires, boundaries and expectations of others impacting on our own and are expected to make room for them.

We learn about influence and competition, and eventually discover that others want to take control of us – teachers, neighbours, managers, doctors, advertisers, journalists, police, politicians, and all manner of other people. Some have the intention of helping us, others have the intention, not of helping us but of helping themselves to us — to our potential, our time, our love, our money — intent on the control of our resources and the leadership of our life. We lose, they win.  That’s if we let them.


1. Their number one weapon is often fear – what will happen if we don’t surrender our power to them.  They play on our deeply rooted need to be loved and accepted, on our desire to minimise the discomforts of normal life as well as the sometimes excruciating emotional or physical pain that may be just round the corner.  They will even play on the desire to stay alive (and free from coercion) for a full span of life.  They demand submission, or maybe a cross in their box on a ballot paper, or else… They will do whatever they can, say whatever they want,  to MAKE us play life their way.

Just for the record, stress due to coercion – being made to do something you don’t want to do – is the third greatest cause of Chronic Heart Disease (heart attack) in the UK.  Interesting, isn’t it?

Unsatisfied desire.

2. And the number two weapon? Desire, greed even. Your longing for more – bigger, faster, posher, more noticeable, more successful, a millimetre closer to perfection. More power – often a desperate attempt to close the gap on your perceived inadequacies and weaknesses. Or someone else’s.

So what do I need in order to stand strong, to ensure that my life remains in my control? How do I remain the captain of my ship on the sea of life, of my community, of my business, yet still stay connected to those with whom I need to collaborate in order to live with a minimum of discomfort and a maximum of contentment, but may not be as trustworthy as I’d like? Pirates, even.

Just one deep thing – Courage.

Courage to Stand.

What DO I stand for? What brings me to my feet? (Or, like Rosa Parks in 1955, would keep my sitting down on an Alabama bus when those around me conform and stand up?) What would you die for – bearing in mind that in many situations across the world, standing DOES mean dying. In Rosa Parks’ case, staying seated led to prison – before becoming a heroine of the anti segregation movement.  What do YOU stand for?

Courage to Lead.

… to be a leader.  The truth is, you lead people every day.  People are watching you.  You are influencing others in what you say, how you act, what you wear, the attitudes you take. Me too.  

And who? Well, if you want to know how much of a leader you are, look around, check who’s following. Who is in your ‘world’ right now? This isn’t some statistical statement about social media although it may include them – most of those people don’t care that much about you.  But who do you meet every day,  people who are watching your life and deciding they like what they see (or not) and want to imitate it – have some of it even – be like you?   Friends, clients, family, managers, the woman at Sainsburys, the other drivers on the road. 

And where will you lead them TO? On a trip to social conformity? A wild adventure holiday?  Here’s something much more worthwhile and long-lasting:

Show them courage –  the courage to change. Maybe an attitude, or a life-path. Courage to do right.  To stand out. to be different. Ask yourself what attitudes you model for others to see, what life-path you are on. Are those congruent with the deepest roots of your life? What do you REALLY believe is a key, worthwhile horizon to head towards, worth sacrificing to reach? Would you be proud for others to follow you there?  A bigger house?  More money? Probably not. 

Courage to Let go.

Time and again this is the Big One. You may not even be aware of those incredibly strong ‘invisible’ spider’s webs that anchor you to the past, those bungee elastics that tug you back to the status-quo whenever you seek to pull away. They are little undermining beliefs – things you think about the world, about how you’ve supposed the world is all these years, that you’ve ‘proved’ to yourself are true, but actually are not. Those determined little beliefs that keep you anchored to your safe and comfy status quo – even when you secretly want to be somewhere (or someone) else entirely.  Ready to let them go?  Now?

Leadership is ultimately about courage. The courage to walk past your fears into an unknown future – and because it’s unknown there is no guarantee that it will necessarily be better – but a future you have the faith to choose.

The courage to reject rejection and accept acceptance. Or maybe accept rejection and reject acceptance?

The courage to say No, when everyone is pressing you to say Yes, because NO is the Right thing to say right now. To vote differently.

And who will come with you?  I don’t know.  Nor do you.  But you’ll be surprised.

Some will come because you love them.  Others because they love you.  Some will come because they admire you, or you persuaded them. Or none of those reasons. Just make sure they are following for good reasons.  

I love honest humble leaders. True leaders are brave inspiring people. They say the unsayable, live the unliveable and think the unthinkable. They swim across the stream of public opinion. Often inconspicuous, they act on their convictions. I’ve met many as I have been working in leader development over the last 40 years. The best sort are those who are more concerned about influence for good than personal fame or prominence.  They are ‘servant leaders’ who know how to love people, honour those around them, have others stand on their shoulders and reach higher than they themselves will ever be able to reach. Humble caring determined men and women who have chosen to live their lives with courage, and have had the faith to step forward. Men and women of whom the world is not worthy.

My invitation to you today is to invade the impossible. To choose Courage. To influence with a Servant Heart. To go for the higher goals, the greater victory – perhaps a victory you’ll not live to see. Better to lead your life with courage and deep passion, complete with it’s inevitable experiences of failing, falling, and frustration, than live a life of superficial joy and shallow success – a life you are no longer proud to own.

It’s HOW you choose to live this next phase of your life that matters.

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