As we navigate the post-pandemic years, healing and recalibrating, leaders have a real opportunity to make the work world better, but only if we are brave enough.
The alphas, the ‘managers’ and the process-focused leaders will lose out to ‘connected’ leaders – those with the emotional intelligence, understanding, and the relational skills to bring people together behind a purpose.
Leadership in 2023 is undoubtedly tough, people are exhausted, overwhelmed, and in many cases reeling from personal, social, health, and financial upheavals the 2020’s have continually thrown at us.
Leaders are called to be better humans, to lead with kindness, equity, and compassion, but still to get the job done – this takes a hefty dollop of courage, but not in the way you may think.
When asked about courage, people often cite superheroes, or those heroes who put themselves on the line (usually physically) for the benefit of others – firefighters, rescuers, brave people who serve in some way or survive adversity.
Courage isn’t just for superheroes, but it is a superpower for leaders in 2023.
Courage for leaders is the ability to speak from your heart and explore what matters in a way that connects people, builds trust, and enables people to tackle the difficult stuff in a kind and respectful way. It’s not about an absence of fear, but a commitment to taking action, even when you feel vulnerable, when don’t have all the answers, and when it makes you unpopular.
Time for leaders to step up
If you are going to show up for the people and things that matter to you, you need guts & grit. You also need to trust yourself, be super clear about what you stand for and what you are prepared to risk. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to drift through life, you tow the company line, you maintain the status quo, and every day you lose a bit of yourself.
This is a call to arms, wake up and pay attention. Courage lives within all of us, we can choose to draw on it or leave it be. Refuse to live by your excuses, perceived limitations, and biases. These constrain you as a human and as a leader. Instead, get intentional. Decide who you want to be and choose courage over conformity.
You must be prepared to rock the boat when some motion is needed and to drop anchor in turbulent times. Your anchor is likely to be some combination of values and what matters to you; move too far away from them and it’s likely you won’t feel great, you’ll make poorer decisions and you won’t lead well.
Courage is a learned behavior and, like most things, being courageous gets easier with practice. Neurologically you start to recognize patterns of behavior, you get less of a neurochemical stress reaction, and you build confidence through action.
If you want to be more courageous as a leader there are a few guiding principles.
Be intentional – about everything
There are almost always more demands than there is time, people will try to pull you in many directions, so pay attention to how and where you spend your time and make sure you have good boundaries.
The more connected you are to your purpose and your people, the more courageous you’ll become around your time, your impact, and your boundaries.
Focus on what you can control – especially yourself
It can be really easy to get distracted by stuff you have no control over, like blaming others, making excuses, or complaining about your lot. When you spend too much time on things you have no influence over you can quickly feel overwhelmed.
On the other hand, focusing on the things you can control, even if that is just yourself, helps you to take courageous steps.
Check your attitude
This is a biggie. The attitude you bring, and the way you show up and behave will set the tone for those you lead. The overlap between what you say and how you behave creates, or destroys, congruence and impacts how much people trust you, whether they feel safe, and to some extent, how they behave.
Even more importantly it impacts how you feel, which in turn influences how courageous you are prepared to be.
You get to choose how you behave, and how you treat those around you – it is 100% in your control. Choose wisely and stay true to yourself, leaders come in all guises.
Always strive to be the best you can be, and if you don’t know what that is try this little exercise:
- Jot down all the things you do and how you feel when you are at your best, in and out of work.
- What trends or patterns can you find?
- What rituals and routines can you build to set yourself up for success
Recognize you are human, you’re allowed the odd off day, don’t beat yourself up – this erodes your courage.
There is a balance to be struck with attitude. Being courageous requires you to believe something is possible, but an overly positive attitude may cause a disconnect with people. Courageous leaders are realistically optimistic but don’t ignore the realities people are experiencing.
It takes courage to meet people where they are, you might hear stuff you don’t want to hear, you might be faced with issues you can’t fix, and sometimes you might feel powerless or out of your depth.
The thing is, people want to be seen, heard, and valued, it doesn’t matter that you can’t fix it, it does matter that you don’t listen or don’t show up for them. Once you understand where people are at, it is much easier to lead them to where they need to be. If you pay attention, they’ll usually tell you how.
Many leaders feel they have to be strong, hide their emotions, and not show their vulnerability, in reality, the opposite is true. Our humanness, our emotion, and our imperfections are often our strongest connections with people, use them. Vulnerability is not an enemy of courage, it’s a builder.
Vulnerability is not about sharing your innermost secrets or spewing your emotions everywhere, it’s about using helpful stories and emotions to enable others to get involved and contribute.
As humans, we crave belonging; at home, in our close social networks, and at work. Your ability to connect people to a vision or get behind purpose, directly impacts whether they follow you, whether they contribute, and whether they feel safe enough to fully engage with you.
You need to stay curious, open to change, and be prepared to admit you don’t have all the answers.
Compassion and kindness connect us human to human, and judgment disconnects. When you feel fearful it’s easy to start judging people, situations, or behaviors that are different from your own. In the short term, it might create some distance from what you fear, but in the longer term, it disconnects you and makes it harder to lead.
If you want to stay connected try a judgment detox, really pay attention to where you are being judgmental, seek to understand, and then try a more compassionate approach. This includes towards yourself by the way.
Look after yourself
It’s easy to buy into the myth of resilience and building mental toughness, we see it all around us, and it might even be the expectation in your organization. It’s a con!
Resilience is about two things, refueling and maintenance, and the better you get at these the longer and further you go. It’s much harder to be brave when you are running on empty.
Think about what refuels you, it’s not the same for everyone, make sure you are putting enough in for the demands of your journey. Have the courage to speak out when you need a bit of maintenance, don’t wait until you break down.
This does two things, it makes sure you are intentional about your wellbeing, and it gives your people permission to do the same.
Finally, just start
Perhaps the most important thing with courage is to start. Speak your truth, stand up for what you believe in, lean into difficult conversations and uncomfortable truths, action builds courage, inertia erodes it.
Take that first step. You might stumble or temporarily lose your footing, but you will have moved, learned, and built your courage – you might get it wrong, and you might just start something amazing.
The International Festival of HR is back and the agenda is now live! Discover amazing speakers from the world of HR and business at UNLEASH America on 26-27 April 2023.
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