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Why Great Leaders Need to be Courageous

Great leaders essentially do two things for their people, they Care for them and help them Grow, Care and Growth. Correlating with this there are really two leadership virtues, generosity and courage. A great leader has a softness in the heart but steel in the hand. Great leaders are very often not very nice but we appreciate their harshness because we know it is rooted in a genuine concern for us and it helps us become better.

The courage element of leadership is often overlooked by leaders. Most leaders find the kind/generous part of leadership easier to achieve. Listening, showing a concern for your people, being supportive, providing them with what they need, etc. Though sincerely demonstrating these things may not be simple to achieve, they are still, for most leaders, easier than things like looking a person in the eye and having a tough conversation, or taking the leap of faith needed to hand something over completely.

Many of the things a leader needs to do will require this courage because many things a leader needs to do are not about being nice. I have put together a short list of the essential things that require courage from a leader.

Giving Negative Feedback

Both negative and positive feedback are very important to reach and maintain high levels of performance. Negative feedback can however be much harder to get right than positive feedback. It means running the risk of offending people and hurting their feelings. This is hard for many people to do, particularly when doing so means that they may lose respect for you.

Because of the hardness of negative feedback it requires courage. If a leader gets negative feedback right, and balances it well with positive feedback, they can inspire people to achieve amazing things. A person who knows that their leader is not afraid to give them negative feedback will have faith that if they do something that is not to standard they will know about it.

Being Open and Honest

Giving negative feedback is a part of being open and honest. Being open and honest involves more than just giving negative feedback. It also involve keeping people abreast of changes, letting them know what you really think about things and what your real intention are, etc.

Honesty will always involve courage because honesty asks you to put yourself on the line for the truth. An open and honest leader will take risks in order to ensure that his/her people are aware of everything they need to be aware of.

Handing Over Authority

One of the most important things that great leaders get right is that they provide a space in which their people learn and grow. Great leaders will always help their people get better.

In order to achieve this however, leaders will have to be willing to take risks to give their people the chance to grow. This typically handing authority over and allowing people to run with a task or a job by themselves. This is risky because at the outset the leader can never be sure how well things will go. But taking the risk provides the person with the opportunity to grow. Great leaders will take a chance on their people.

Holding People Accountable

When people have been given authority and allow to run with things, it is necessary to hold them accountable. Accountability is an essential part of leadership. It is about holding people to their responsibilities. If they fail to look after their responsibilities they must suffer the consequences. This is what it means to be a mature and accountable person.

Leaders need to be courageous enough to give warnings, hold disciplinary hearings, and even fire people in the event that they fail to adhere to what is reasonably expected of them. This is often not easy so it really does require courage.

Please share and/or leave a comment! What else do leaders need courage for?


Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.

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