Gaining the Courage to Lead

Do you have the courage to lead or does self-imposed fear restrict your willingness to take on a leadership role? One of my leadership heroes, Nelson Mandela said: “Fear and courage are brothers. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

What stops you from having the courage to lead? The top four characteristics people say they want from their leaders are: honesty, forward-looking, inspiring and competence. The only thing that stops you being that person is often self-imposed fear.

Self-imposed fear is usually based on imagining ‘what might happen’ rather than what will actually happen. For example, you might imagine that you won’t know what to do as a leader and people won’t respect or like you if you aren’t good at it, so you’d rather not put yourself out there. If you’re honest with yourself, you are putting up potential barriers and giving yourself an out before you’ve even tried. It’s not wrong and is quite normal. Some people talk about it being a ‘fear of failure’. However, the trick is to imagine what’s the worst that might happen and then at least try.

Gaining the courage to lead and being willing to take a chance is the first step. Then, recognizing that there is no single ‘best’ way to lead and figuring out what works best for you and the team you are leading. Learning to lead and gaining the confidence to do so develops over time. You practice, reflect, study the theory, follow role models, listen, get feedback, and possibly work with an executive coach. In today’s world, you have to be like an APP – constantly updating and adapting to change.

With many different styles of leadership, it’s knowing which style you have and how others respond to that style that will distinguish you as a leader. It’s understanding how important it is to embrace your own personality and motivations while recognizing how different everyone is and learning to address what motivates them.

Some informal surveying with a range of colleagues, friends and interns showed common aspects related to gaining the courage to lead:

  • Being self-aware.
  • Having self-trust – trust your instincts; recognize your intrinsic value and show up consistently with it; being authentic.
  • Having a conviction for what you are doing – know your subject, have a clear path.
  • Not being afraid to admit when you don’t know or need help – it’s not a weakness but rather a strength. It’s how you ask and knowing who to ask that are key.
  • Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter and more experienced in their fields than you are – you aren’t expected to be an expert at everything so don’t expect it of yourself.
  • Learning to listen and consider ideas, with clear, concise communication approaches when delivering decisions.
  • Enabling others to propose ideas and take ownership for their work – delegation, engagement, and empowerment.
  • Being willing to make unpopular decisions, if you believe it is right for the company, organization or individual (after you’ve listened to input!) – again, it’s how you execute the decision in a well-thought through manner that counts.
  • Accepting and working with your own personality and motivations, while recognizing other people’s differences and addressing what motivates them.
  • Participating in learning and networking opportunities that address the challenges and the executable fundamentals, where you can share experiences and best practices.

Not everyone wants to be a leader and every leader needs fantastic support staff. Each is a key component of the whole. Decide where you want to be and then go out and be fearless!

JBL Strategies works with leaders to integrate their personal leadership growth, with strategy and communications to become stronger, more effective leaders. For more information, visit or email us at

Posted in Behavior change, Communication, Leadership, Leading with confidence, Self Awareness and tagged , , , , .