8 Types of Courage for Aspiring Leaders

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“The truth is that courage resides within you; you must simply decide to embrace it.”
— Jennifer McClanahan-Flint

Transforming yourself from high-performing employee into a leader can be a challenge – one that takes strength, moxie, resilience and courage.

As I read back over some of the courage-themed articles here at Be Leaderly, I realized that there are many different types of courage that emerging leaders must draw from, in order to successfully make the leap into leadership. Here are eight types of courage you’ll need if you aspire to lead:

1. Courage to be your authentic self
It takes courage and effort to stop trying to be the person you think you need to be in order to succeed at work. But being a professional pretzel – twisting yourself into knots, trying to be someone you’re not – now that can truly be exhausting!

Carla Harris, a Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Global Wealth Management with Morgan Stanley, says that being authentic at work is a powerful differentiator, and can be a tool for building uniquely strong business relationships.

So stop fighting against your strengths. Find a role and a workplace where you can bring “the real you” to the table. Being authentic can be your ultimate differentiator in a world full of people who’ve twisted themselves into knots trying to blend in while you’re standing out.

Read more about being authentic from Carla Harris here…

2. Courage to align your career with your purpose
In today’s competitive workplace, there’s a lot of pressure to find the right professional purpose, and make it a grand one. According to career development author Sarah Landrum, “We tend to think of purpose as something big or something that ‘makes a mark on the world,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean.”

Don’t be intimidated. You can discover your purpose, mold a career around it, and distinguish yourself. “Focus on one or two values that you strongly, genuinely care about” advises Landrum, then take small but determined steps toward incorporating those values into your daily life at work.

Read more on finding your purpose from Sarah Landrum here…

3. Courage to take risks
Human beings are wired to overestimate risk and underestimate opportunity, but if you’re not taking risks – the kind that could make or break your career, such as going after challenging, highly visible assignments – you’re not exploiting your full capacity for career growth.

“If you’re not taking risks in your career,” says Valerie Oswalt, vice president of sales, west area for Mondelēz International, “you might actually be creating more risk for yourself.”

Read more on risk-taking from Valerie Oswalt here…

4. Courage to seek out feedback
Feedback is a critical tool for aspiring leaders. It takes courage to ask, “How am I doing, and what can I do to improve?” To get an honest answer, you will have had to make it safe for the other person to speak up and give you their unbiased perspective.

Don’t wait to get feedback in those once-a-year, high-stakes performance reviews. Feedback fuels course correction along your leadership journey, and hearing it only once a year could have you sailing too far afield to ever get back. So make a practice of regularly requesting feedback, so it becomes a part of the conversations you have every day. And try to receive it well, being open to all of the different types of feedback you receive, whether it is delivered expertly or not.

5. Courage to tolerate temporary discomfort
How comfortable are you with being uncomfortable? “When you push yourself beyond your perceived limitations, it is NOT comfortable,” says writer Alexandra Franzen.

But if you want to achieve extraordinary things, according to Franzen, “you must be willing to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort.” So ask for the promotion, speak up in the meeting, and say “yes” to the challenging assignment. When you stretch yourself to do these uncomfortable things, the discomfort is enabling you to grow as a leader, which is never a bad thing.

Adds Franzen, “The quality of your life is directly proportionate to your capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings — and take the next step, anyway.”

Read more about tolerating discomfort from Alexandra Franzen here…

6. Courage to let others shine
“Great leaders know when to step aside,” says Tara Jaye Frank, VP of Multicultural Strategy for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose.
At times, says Frank, “…the most important step a leader can take is a step out of the way.” This may mean having the courage and trust to relinquish your place in the leadership spotlight, empower others, and let them step up and lead.

Ask yourself, “Am I the only one who can get this task done, take the credit, and be in the spotlight? Or is there an up-and-comer on the team for whom this could be an ideal development opportunity and if so, how can I empower that person to benefit from this experience?” In sports terms, it’s the equivalent of passing the ball to someone in a better position to score.  A real team player – and true leader – will do what’s right for the team, the project or the opportunity, and not just for herself.

Read more about the courage to step back, from Tara Jaye Frank here… 

7. Courage to influence upward
Have you ever disagreed with a decision that your management has made? It takes a whole lot of courage to stand up, have a voice, and speak truth to power. Fear not; being able to communicate persuasively with your superiors – especially when the stakes are high – is a critical skill for emerging leaders.

Lori Carlin Proctor, senior retail supply leader with Procter and Gamble, put it well when she said “To be an effective leader, you have to be a strong communicator. One of the most important areas of leading and communicating is with your own management.”

Take time to understand your leaders, their goals, and decision-making styles, so that you learn the art of influencing upward: communicating in a way that they find persuasive, even when you’re presenting “tough news”.

Read more on influencing upward from Lori Proctor and other leaders here…

8. Courage to keep trying
So you’ve been bold, taken risks, and influenced upward to get the assignment you want, empowered others to take action, endured temporary discomfort, and then… nothing. Your big proposal falls apart at the 11th hour. You work your butt off and somebody else gets the promotion. Thirty cold-calls lead to no new customers. All that courageous effort seems to go nowhere. What next? Simple: don’t give up. Keep going, keep trying, until you achieve your goals.

Trying is always worth it, according to Alexandra Franzen, who says, “You might take courageous action and get no visible result. You might pour in your heart and soul, you strain, you fight, and yet…”

Keep on trying even when you’re uncertain of the outcome, because when you try your best, according to Franzen, “…you never really ‘fail.’ Simply by trying — especially when nobody else is willing or able to act — you become an inspiration to everyone you meet.”

Read more from Franzen about the courage to keep trying here…

As career strategist Jennifer McClanahan-Flint says, “Being courageous doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid to do what scares you; it simply means you trust the foundation within to hold you steady as you move through the shaky parts.”

So there you have it: 8 types of courage to use as you lead yourself, lead your career forward, and prepare to become a leader of others. Which one will you use, today?

Jo Miller

Jo is Founding Editor of Be Leaderly, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc., and creator of the Women’s Leadership Coaching® system, a roadmap for women who want to break into leadership. She has traveled in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and workshops, and counts being the only Aussie women’s leadership coach in Iowa among her unique “koalafications.” Learn more about Jo’s services at womensleadershipcoaching.com and follow @jo_miller on Twitter.

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