13 Aug

The skill of courage in leadership and the workplace

Courage is a skill that is developed and harnessed over time, not a character trait that brave people are born with. Courage in leadership isn’t about the absence of fear. Courage can only exist where there is fear, which is a pretty cool concept. Courage is about taking the action you need to take – even though you’re afraid. Here’s how.


I posted a cheeky meme on Instagram and Facebook last week about courage. It looks like this:

courage in leadership quote

The post was a hit and I wanted to write more about it, because courage is a super important resource to harness, especially in leadership. And it doesn’t have to be the strenuous, time- exhausting process you think it has to be…

The Big Idea – all you need is to be brave for 20 seconds to get the job done

I first heard this concept from Ceri Evans, when he was working with the All Blacks. He’s a psychiatrist and his mastermind topic is performing under pressure – clearly that’s something that the All Blacks are all about. Thing is, you don’t have to be an All Black, or even an elite sports person. All sorts of sh*t is scary!! And sh*t that scares us is everywhere.

Neuroscientific research explains this nicely (thanks to fRMI and other amazing technology)

Our brains are amazingly adaptive, responsive and reactive. We know that can be a good and not-so-good thing!! It’s all good here though. In only 10 seconds after we start an activity our brains say, “oh hell yes, we’re doing this already, we may as well carry on”. And after 20 seconds our comfort levels start to increase and we’re effectively on a roll. The key is staying with courage.

The best thing, once you start to wire your brain like this neuro-plasticity kicks in. That means your brain will know what chemicals you need a squirt of to be courageous, and diving into a 20 second bout of courage in leadership will get easier and easier.

Top Tip

Imagine what it’ll be like to finish the task that you are fearful of starting. Or speaking confidently to your peers at the conference you’re a bit freaked out about. Or if you want to get a little more cerebral, ask yourself a question like this:

“Who am I to speak up? Who am I not to speak up?” (Bit of a mind bender that!)

You may just choose to be curious, and use the opportunity to do something scary as a chance to try something new, especially if ‘there is no failure, only feedback’, is a mantra of yours.

Commit to courage – 20 seconds.

With the skill of seeing fear as the precursor to courage, you may take on harder projects, deal better with change and speak up more willingly about important issues. Your role as a leader in the workplace is in part to instil courage in your team, which could be in one of three ways;

  1. Physical courage — making first attempts, pursuing new ways of doing things and taking action to
    get sh*t done.
  2. Emotional courage — letting go of the need to control every minutinae, harnessing trust in others and being open to direction and change.
  3. Vocal courage — raising difficult issues, sharing unpopular opinions and providing tough feedback.

Everyone has the capacity to have courage, and not just in leadership or the workplace. As in business, courage can lead to much success personally as well. So what are you waiting for? Give these attempts and courage a try, and let me know how you get on.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”  – William Faulkner