I am a big believer in giving my kids room to choose the job they want without putting undue pressure on them to fit my mold. (We all pressure them to some extent whether we admit it or not!) I love my kids and will be proud of them no matter what their job is. However, one thing that I’ve always told them is, “If you are the leader, you must have courage to lead. If you don’t have courage to lead, at least have the integrity to say no.”
It seems to me that so many times the thing that holds back the team is the courage of the leader—or more specifically, the lack thereof. I know the leader must have vision, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and many other things. However, no matter how skilled or experienced a leader is, if he/she lacks the courage to lead, then it doesn’t matter what else he/she has to offer.
Listen to the frustrations of followers and you will soon discover that no matter what the particular issue is, it usually goes back to a lack of courage in the heart of the leader. For example, leaders need courage to:
- Set clear direction
- Hold people accountable for job performance
- Make tough decisions
- Stand tall in the face of adversity
- Know the difference between listening to each person and following each person
- Hold others accountable for behavior that tears at the cohesion of the team
Just the other day, I was reminded of the role of courage all over again. Sitting with a group of emerging leaders, one by one, they shared their frustrations with leadership that lacked courage. One person shared how paralyzing it was for a leader to refuse to make a decision; another talked about what it was like to work with someone who was an obvious poor performer, yet was allowed to continually drag down the rest of the team. Still others spoke about leaders who were indifferent and distracted.
In their book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown write powerfully about the difference between leaders who see themselves as “genius” and those who see themselves as “genius-makers”. The genius often ends up making people feel diminished and unimportant. It’s demoralizing to others. The same is true for leaders who lack courage. In their efforts to avoid conflict, please everyone, and make themselves look good, their lack of courage becomes demoralizing.
So if you are a leader, you need to make sure you have the courage to lead. If not, at least have the integrity to step aside and let someone else.