Courageous leaders are in high demand and short supply these days.
Rampant fear has sent many organizational cultures into a downward spiral, the tenuous state of the economy creating untold levels of anxiety. According to a 2011/2012 Kenexa report , workplace stress is at the highest levels in four years, driven in large part by fear. In these situations, people tend to keep their heads down and their mouths shut in order to survive. This not only applies to the rank and file, but to management as well.
These are the times that call for bold, confident, courageous leadership. As history has shown, those with the guts to step forward, take some risks and lead change during downturns will be the winners as the economy rebounds.
But it’s not easy. Demonstrating leadership courage – whether it’s having an uncomfortable conversation, communicating when you don’t have all the answers, or making a decision to move ahead on a new project – can be scary. Yet it’s precisely the kind of behavior that fosters trust and sets a crucial example for others to follow at a time when they’d rather hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
If you want to see more courageous action by your people, consider whether you’re modeling the 10 traits of courageous leaders:
Confront reality head-on. Ditch the rose-colored glasses and face the facts about the state of your organization and business. Only by knowing the true current state can you lead your team to a better place.
Seek feedback and listen. We all have blind spots that impact the way we interact with others. Unfiltered 360-degree feedback is not always easy to hear, but it can breathe new life into your relationships and leadership style if you listen and act.
Say what needs to be said. Real conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if conflict is involved. Having crucial conversations helps cut through the smoke and move through issues. This also means having the courage to put your opinions on the table, even if they are unpopular.
Encourage push-back. Many leaders feel pressure to have all the answers. By encouraging constructive dissent and healthy debate, you reinforce the strength of the team and demonstrate that in the tension of diverse opinions lies a better answer.
Take action on performance issues. Confronting people issues isi hard, which is why so many leaders ignore them until they become a toxic threat to the team or company’s performance. By taking swift action to reassign or exit underperforming employees, you are helping yourself, the team and organization.
Communicate openly and frequently. Keep the lines of communication open, even when you don’t know all the answers. Courageous leaders refuse to hide behind jargon and wiggle-words – they use straight-talk and are not afraid to say “I don’t know.” They also share information instead of hoarding it.
Lead change. In fear-based environments, it’s all about protecting the status quo. Envision a better way, a better solution, a better product – and approach it with determination and an open mind, knowing that it will be messy and that a mid-course correction may be necessary. Remember that you need to bring people along the change process for them to truly engage.
Make decisions and move forward. Especially in environments of fear and intense change, it feels unsafe to commit to a decision and move ahead. Avoid the crutch of ‘analysis paralysis’ and make the decision. Forward movement is always better than being stuck in place.
Give credit to others. Let go of the need for praise and instead give the credit to those around you. At first it feels scary – will I be rendered irrelevant or unnecessary if my people are doing all the good stuff? Remember that a good leader takes more than their fair share of the blame and less than their fair share of the credit.
Hold people (and yourself) accountable. Expect people to perform and deliver on their commitments, and have courage to call them out when they don’t follow through. Remember that accountability begins with you – holding yourself responsible for modeling the behaviors you expect of others.