Like a spotlight cutting through darkness, courage shines brightest in the presence of fear. It’s easy to boldly march forward when we’re filled with confidence, and the way forward is fairly smooth. It takes real courage — and strong leadership — to navigate our way when we’re full of negative fantasies and everything seems to be against us. True courage is to master, rather than be mastered by, our fears.
Victory in difficult circumstances starts with our own victory over self. The best way out of a tough situation is by working through it. Thucydides, the ancient Greek historian and the author of the History of the Peloponnesian War (covering the battle between Sparta and Athens from 431 to 404 B.C.), declares, “But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out and meet it.”
The word “courage” is a Middle English word derived from an Old French word for “heart.” Aristotle taught that courage is the foundation of all human virtues because it makes the others possible. It starts with accepting we’re free to choose our life. We have the freewill to define who we are. We aren’t stuck with our circumstances. We may not choose what happens to us, but we choose what to do about it.
Freedom isn’t easy. It requires us to take responsibility for our actions. Sometimes we want to escape from freedom. It can be hard to accept responsibility for the life our choices have created. It’s easier — and popular — to blame fate, luck, or others for where we are. We can create elaborate defense and avoidance mechanisms to hide from the tough issues and sidestep making the changes we know deep down we should be making. But that’s just existing. It’s not really living. We can become a prisoner in a jail we’ve built.
Tomorrow we publish my September blogs in the October issue of The Leader Letter. This month’s issue focuses on courage. This counterbalances last month’s focus on fear. Courageous leaders face their fears. It’s difficult — if not impossible — to build a values-centered team or organization in a culture of fear. Courageous leaders stand up and speak their truth. Courageous leaders also sit down and listen.
Courageous leadership can be as simple — and as difficult — as initiating a tough conversation rather than sending an e-mail or text. The sparks of minor conflicts, feedback, and smaller issues can be fanned into roaring fires by electronic exchanges that should have been personal conversations. Courageous conversations are difficult to have — especially if they’ve been uncomfortable or unsuccessful in the past. It often takes courage to have tough discussions instead of sending a text or e-mail. But the price of typing rather than talking can be misunderstanding and damaged relationships. And it erodes our courage foundation.
As Waylon Jennings sang, “Some things come in small packages; Sometimes heroes do too; If you have the courage and you have the heart; The hero just might be you.”