Five forms of courage leaders need today
A view from Sarah Wood & Niamh O’Keefe

Five forms of courage leaders need today

Company leaders must trust their teams and be willing to fail, write the Unruly and Next100 founders.

In our fast-paced digital world, the days of the lone wolf leader and visionary chief executive, predicting the future and performing business miracles, are now gone. The company that wins in the long term will be the one with the best organised, motivated and clearly aligned team.

To build a great team, leaders need to show both courage and kindness. However, we would encourage you to think about courage in some new- and more vulnerable- ways. Here are five forms of courage we think leaders today need to show and model to their teams:

  1. The courage to be yourself

As a leader, you will most likely be spending more time with your core team over the course of a given week than you spend with your close family. What that means is you can’t try to be anyone other than yourself. Not only would that be exhausting, it’s also counter-productive. Authenticity is what people respond to; they want to know about you – what you care about, what motivates you, what kind of person you are to work for. So you don’t have an option to be anyone other than yourself, and nor should you want to be.

  1. The courage to trust

Many leaders, entrepreneurs especially, will say that their biggest problem is a reluctance to delegate. It’s understandable; when as a leader you are responsible for results and performance, your instinctive reaction is to try and do as much as possible yourself, so you have maximum control over the outcome. Except that control is an illusion, because all you’re really doing is creating a bottleneck, depriving your team of opportunities to lead, and adding unnecessary weight to your already heavy burden.

Until you’re prepared to actually trust your team – not just to do things under close supervision, but to make their own decisions, take ownership of their work and take responsibility for their self-improvement – you will never get the best out of yourself or other people.

  1. The courage to ask

For some leaders, the last thing they would ever want is to lose face in front of their team. But if you want to fulfil your potential and keep on stepping up through your career, you need to be entirely willing to look foolish. Ask the questions no one else is asking, especially ones that may seem silly or obvious. If you don’t, probably no one will.

As a leader, you can set the tone that says nothing is off the table, no idea is too weird or wonderful to be considered, and no question too obvious or silly to be discussed. You will have healthier discussions and make better collective decisions as a result.

  1. The courage to change

Not every decision you make will be the right one, and that doesn’t mean you made it for the wrong reasons either. With disruption knocking on every door, circumstances and information can very quickly change and that means you have to adapt and course-correct as you go along. It may be perceived as a ‘flip-flop’ by your team but it’s far better to admit the error and turn back early than continuing down a dead-end road map while you work out some way to save face and shift the blame.

  1. The courage to fail

Not everything is going to go to plan so it’s good to recognise early on in your career that getting things wrong is sometimes a necessary step on the way to getting them right. As a leader you’re in an exposed position: people are watching your actions and their results; indeed, results are what you will be judged by. But if you obsess over the illusion of a perfect record, you will miss opportunities to experiment, to try new things and to do better in the long run.

All of which means you need to be willing to fail, and be seen to fail. That may seem counter-intuitive, but if you are not getting anything wrong or ever tripping up, then you are playing it too safe.

This is an edited extract from Stepping Up: How to accelerate your leadership potential by Unruly founder Sarah Wood and First100 founder.