“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain
There are any number of traits that people ascribe to great leaders, but one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is courage. I’m not talking about the kind of courage that usually makes the news. I mean day to day courage.
In particular, I’m talking about the courage to handle difficult situations that need to be handled. That maybe sounds pretty simple. Of course leaders handle difficult situations that need to be handled, right? Well, sometimes. Sometimes not so much.
We as leaders like to think of ourselves as always being willing to step up and do whatever’s necessary for our businesses to thrive. In reality, we quite often choose the easy way out and then figure out a rationalization (excuse) for why we did it that way. The phrase “we need to pick our battles” gets used a lot.
There’s certainly some truth to that. However, we’re usually not just picking our battles. We’re avoiding them completely. If you make it all the way through your career without any battles, then you weren’t just picking them carefully, you were running from them.
I don’t mean that all of the difficult situations we avoid are necessarily full-on conflict. But most of them are situations that cause us to be afraid. Afraid an employee might quit, afraid we’ll look foolish, afraid a customer might leave us for a competitor. We’re afraid of what might happen, so we figure we’ll just go along with what is happening, even if it’s not a good situation.
Don’t do that. Your performance as a leader – and to some extent, your career – will be defined by how you handle those difficult situations. Think about all the great leaders you know of, whether they were in business, politics, sports, whatever. They might have careers that span decades, but they’re defined by what they did in the biggest situations. The same will be true for you.
What opportunity to demonstrate courage have you been avoiding? What conversation have you not been having? What battle have you been running from? Time to stop running and start leading.