In my prior post, I proposed that leaders cannot rise above the limitations of their character. How a leader deals with the circumstances of life tells you many things about his character. Crisis doesn’t always mold character, but it certainly does reveal it. And adversity is a crossroads that makes a person choose one of two paths: character or compromise. So it takes real courage to have character. Where does this courage come from?
Courage begins with an inner battle. Every test you face as a leader begins within you. The test of courage is not different. All significant battles are waged within one’s self. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It is having the power to let go of the familiar and forge ahead into new territory. Courage is fear that has said its prayers. Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Great leaders take a stand when needed. Courage is making things right, not just smoothing them over. Courage deals with principle, not perception. If you don’t have the ability to see when to stand up and the conviction to do it, you’ll never be an effective leader. Your dedication to principle must remain stronger than your desire to appease others.
On the other hand, fear limits a leader. The desire for safety is a barrier against every great and noble endeavor. Those who don’t have the courage to take risks to do the right thing, tend to worry about trivial things and never accomplish much. But those with the courage to overcome their fears live lives full of meaning and purpose. British theologian John Henry Newman said, “Fear not that your life will come to an end, but that it will never have a beginning.”
Courage is motivational. A show of courage by any person encourages others. But a show of courage by a leader inspires others. It makes people want to follow him. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened. Courage is contagious. Leadership is the expression of courage that compels people to do the right thing. It is one way a leader inspires commitment from followers.
Eleanor Roosevelt once acknowledged, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Leadership requires character. And whether in public or in private, character requires the courage to do that which we know to be right, regardless of the consequences. Ask yourself these questions: Does my walk match my talk? What issue have I made right today, rather than smoothing it over? Am I putting off an action or decision because I fear the consequences, even though I know it is the right thing to do?