Many virtues mark the life of a great leader. Integrity, ambition, vision, and empathy are just a few. But perhaps most important of all virtues is courage, because without the courage to hold fast, the demonstration of these other virtues is sporadic at best. Author, poet and performer Maya Angelou expressed this conviction when she said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” Renowned novelist C. S. Lewis likewise said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
In a recent blog post, author Michele Cushatt wrote about “The 5 Marks of a Courageous Life,” presenting in her refreshing personal style a thought-provoking list of qualities that mark the life of a person who is truly living courageously. Her list includes:
As Michele explains, courage is more than conquering occasional distinct challenges. True courage is about daily living with firm resolve, as demonstrated in a life marked by the qualities above. As a leader, you are constantly faced with opportunities to demonstrate personal courage and resolve. It may be the courage to act with integrity in the face of temptation to compromise and cut corners. Or perhaps it’s being brave enough to confront a direct report about misconduct. Often these opportunities are not even recognized as situations that take courage. As Michele mentions, being strong enough to act with compassion, offer forgiveness, or remain humble also takes a degree of courage.
Perhaps the most courageous thing of all for a leader is to stay the course under fire. This is where conviction and determination come in. Every leader has critics, and every decision a leader makes faces some degree of opposition. Being able to make those decisions despite opposition and to follow-through regardless of the critics takes significant courage and resolve. This isn’t to say that every decision you make as a leader is a good one, or that you shouldn’t listen to the insights of others, but when you resolve to make the best decision you can and to see it through no matter what, there is no better mark of truly courageous leadership.
What marks of courageous leadership stand out to you?
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