Whenever I hear of someone being “courageous”, I often think that someone acted “bravely” or in a “fearless” manner. Yet, being courageous is actually about being heartfelt. The word courage comes from the French word “le coeur” which means, “heart”. I really like the idea of using this term alongside “leadership”. I think that individuals who “lead from the heart” are really the ones we most resonate with and who gain a true followership.
Last weekend in Washington DC, there was a big celebration for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. With all the talk about it in the media, it got me thinking about MLK and how he was the perfect definition of a courageous leader. Yes, you might initially think that he was brave because he stood up for his convictions during a time when they were unpopular. That is true and what is also true is that he led from his heartfelt place of what he believed. He believed in equality for all and that is the place from which he led. He spoke consistently about what he believed in his heart and that is what got others to follow him; not because he had concrete proof that his beliefs were accurate or even “right” but because he truly believed in equality for all. When he spoke, he spoke from the heart and all his actions were congruent with those heartfelt beliefs. That is being a courageous leader.
Another way to look at courageous leadership is in how leaders interact with those who follow them. I have a great example of a senior leader in an organization who I would define as a heartfelt, courageous leader. Why? First, he was a mentor to a large number of employees in the organization (people sought him out to be their mentor and he rarely refused anyone) and second, because people constantly wanted to work for him. They would go out of their way to try to get on his team and work for him.
When I asked them what made this person so special, the consistent answers were, “He really cares about all his employees”, and, “He takes time for each person who works on his team, gets to know them and is not afraid to show that he truly cares about each employee as a person”. Yes, he has very high expectations of those on his team but the fact that he expresses his feelings and shows that he cares is what makes others want to work for him. It also inspires them to be a highly successful member of his team. Needless to say, this not only has great impact on his team’s success but also drives outstanding business results.
When I asked him how he felt about these sentiments that others expressed about him, what he said to me was, “I truly love my employees; I know that may not be a popular or main stream thing to say, but they are great people who deserve nothing but the utmost respect from me. I am honored to be their leader”.
That is courageous leadership.