Reframing Courage© (adapted from Unmask: Let Go of Who You’re “Supposed” to Be & Unleash Your True Leader)

One of the best ways to experience the difference between conscious and unconscious leaders is to examine the concept of courage and what it means for a leader (or any person) to be courageous. Here are some of the most common definitions of courage:

  • Mental or moral strength to persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty (Merriam Webster)
  • The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence and resolution (American Heritage)
  • The ability to do something that frightens one (Oxford)

Isn’t that interesting! All of these common definitions focus on facing something, doing something or persevering despite something that invokes fear or hesitation. Courage is decidedly NOT about avoiding or being without fear or uncertainty, yet it seems our cultural belief (especially for leaders) is that courage means never experiencing fear. This is simply off-course thinking and believing.

Frankly, whenever I hear anyone claim to be fearless, my natural response is to call that person a liar. Everyone is afraid of something or experiences internal hesitations, yet unconscious leaders believe that leadership requires denial of these very real feelings and thoughts. Conscious leaders, however, acknowledge their fears and questions, yet confidently and decisively take action and lead others through the difficult or challenging times, thereby demonstrating courage through their authenticity.

People today are seeking leaders that they can get to know, leaders they can see for who they are and leaders who are self-confident enough to fully show themselves to others. Consider this dichotomy—the old way of leadership involved pretending as if nothing bothers us (believing that this shows self-confidence), yet we all know from our own life and business experiences that when we pretend that nothing bothers us or gets under our skin, we are actually modeling a lack of confidence. We lack enough self-confidence to be ourselves.

In contrast, the new way of being as a conscious leader embraces the reality that true self-confidence (even if imperfect) is demonstrated when a leader is willing to acknowledge that things do get tough, that things bother them and that they have doubts and hesitations. The myth that stoicism equates to confidence and thus leadership is thankfully dying in our culture, leaving the door open for conscious leaders to step up into a more collaborative and cooperative leadership role and experience—an experience that empowers everyone to be more, to achieve more, and to be themselves, even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

If you’re looking for further evidence, look no further than a recent Huffington Post article on authentic leadership and vulnerability. A research study of 64,000 people worldwide found “that two thirds of their participants ‘thought the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.’ Their research revealed that the very words associated with feminine characteristics—empathy, selflessness, passion, patience, intuition, flexibility, loyalty, reasonableness, communicative and ability to plan in a far-sighted way—were the very words highly associated with ideal leadership.'”

The author added: “What I find encouraging in this research is the permission for more men to display their more ‘feminine’ aspects with less fear that they will be seen as less powerful, and equally important, that women can feel less inhibited in showing their softer sides when in positions of leadership.” This suggests that there is a need for more authentic and vulnerable leaders and highlights that the biggest obstacle is fear.  That is why it is so essential that we move away from a definition of courage as the absence of fear. Only when we see courage as moving through or in spite of fear will we be able to share our true selves and become authentic conscious leaders. Thus, the need to reframe our definition of courage or, perhaps, to find a big enough personal “why” to overcome our fear and to do it anyway.

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