Blog

May 24, 2018

The Significance of Courageous Leadership in the Office

What comes to mind when you think of the word "courageous"? Maybe firefighters who run straight into a blazing home? Or perhaps a kid fighting cancer with an unstoppable positive attitude? Me too.

Rarely, however, does the notion of courage in the corporate workplace come up. When it does, it’s typically around someone taking on an audacious, never-been-done-before project, or maybe presenting to a large crowd. And while often not as dramatic or grandiose as the examples mentioned above, we tend to overlook how sharing your point of view falls into the courageous bucket.

I have always found a clear line between management and leadership. In its most simplistic form, I view management as having people work for you. Leadership, on the other hand, is about people choosing to follow you. Both skill sets are necessary to achieve a vision, and can sometimes exist in the same person. And while managers can drive us to produce results, it’s often leaders and their courageous authenticity who inspire us to succeed.

My career has led me to be surrounded by a slew of ambitious, talented people. One common thread shared by so many of them is how to build those leadership skills. Sure, you can be promoted to a management role. Anyone, however, can become a leader...and it doesn’t have to include direct reports and performance reviews. How, you might ask? Courage plays a significant factor here.

GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

To be vulnerable does not equal being weak. When we fail to show our vulnerability, we are often engaging in self-preservation which is the opposite of courageous. To put yourself out there and inspire people, you need to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. Whether it’s sharing a big idea or a different point of view, being courageous is really about leaning in - even when you can’t ultimately control the outcome. Managers work to control outcomes. Leaders are humans who take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. When they do so, they open themselves up to far more possibilities, creation, change, etc. Management results get the job done; leaders pushing beyond their comfort zones can provide the impact that propels a company forward.

FOCUS ON BETTERING YOUR GAME, NOT JUST ON WINNING

When we focus solely on winning - crushing our competition, for example - we are focused on the short-term game. As the brilliant Simon Sinek shares, you can’t honestly ever win at business...as soon as you achieve one goal, there is another goal waiting to be tackled. When you play what he refers to as the “finite game,” your actions and focus revolve around short-term outcomes. More management thinking than that of the more visionary, vulnerable leader, right? To play the “infinite” game, you need to put your courageous authenticity into play. That requires a long-term view, the ability to morph continuously, and the ability to inspire others to participate in that journey. A focus on short-term results might help you win today, but is not an effective recipe for long-term success. A courageous leader will curb the obsession with merely beating the competition and instead embrace that continually upping its own game and effectively beating one’s success is the best long-term strategy.

STANDING UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN

The last few years have been fueled with people being courageous to the point of taking a stand to say “ENOUGH.”  Whether it was women (and some men) stepping forward to share their #MeToo experiences, taking a stand on our current political climate or the like, we are living in a time of growing courage that is starting to create an environment of equality and tolerance. Perhaps every company isn’t facing dramatic issues that are being led by revolt, but the lesson of speaking up for what’s right is vital to all who wish to thrive. Effective leaders in these organizations will celebrate behaviors that support a positive, evolving culture. And they will mostly certainly speak up when they see that not happening. It can be scary to take this stand, and to potentially put yourself out there to say, “this is not okay.” And yet, this is what exceptional leaders do.

Being a true leader is not just about creating an incredible vision of the future, and inspiring people to want to follow your path. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, focusing on the long-term game, and finding your authentic voice are all critical components. Yes, we all acknowledge that first responders are a fantastic representation of what courage looks like...but in today’s constantly evolving workplace, those who embrace these dynamics of leaderships are the ones I know I’ll continue to follow.


Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.