The sixth C, Courage, refers to the leader’s willingness to seize opportunities despite the inherent risk and uncertainties. It is easy to have an idea. Many people are quick to point out problems, and even speculate about solutions. What sets leaders apart is that they have the courage to act on those ideas and implement those solutions. It should be emphasized that courage is not about fearlessness. It is about being afraid and moving forward anyway. It is about pursuing a passion – a purpose – that is greater than one’s fear.
Leaders influence change toward a common vision. Change can be inherently difficult, and sometimes frightening. It involves leaving the realm of “what is” for “what could be.” This is risky and requires courage. Why are leaders willing to take this risk? They do so because the best leaders understand that failure, while it hurts in the moment, is a passing thing. Regret is not. The regret that comes from not trying – from missed opportunities – can last a lifetime. So, even more than failure, leaders fear regret. They understand the adage, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
Leadership experts, Kouzes and Posner (2006) refer to this willingness to take risks as “Challenge the Process” and describe it as “searching for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve” and “experimenting and taking risks” (p. 5). What is known is usually safe; the unknown is often risky. That is why one of the main ways leaders can encourage others is by creating a safe space for team members to take risks. Leaders can do this in two primary ways: (1) providing help and support to an individual taking a risk and/or trying to achieve a goal; and (2) treating failures as learning opportunities.
One theory that addresses the role the leader should play in their followers’ goal achievement is path-goal theory. According to Northouse (2010), path-goal theory involves leaders who “help subordinates define their goals and the paths they want to take…when obstacles arise…[it] may mean helping the subordinate around the obstacle, or it may mean removing the obstacle” (p. 132). It emphasizes that it becomes the leader’s job to provide appropriate support to the subordinates. Similarly, organizational change expert Kotter (1995) refers to it as empowering others to act on the vision.
Kotter (1995) echoes path-goal theory when he states that empowering others involves removing obstacles for employees trying to contribute to the vision. “Renewal [achieving the vision] also requires the removal of obstacles” (p. 7). Gill (2003) also recognizes the importance of empowering those carrying out a vision or change initiative. To him, empowerment involves “giving people knowledge, skills, opportunity, freedom, self-confidence, and resources to manage themselves and be accountable” (p. 315).
In addition to empowering – rather encouraging – others, leaders can develop a risk taking culture by viewing mistakes and failures as learning opportunities instead of immediate grounds for dismissal (Kouzes & Posner, 2006). Thomas (2009) puts it this way:
Progress and learning, then, mean expecting and allowing some honest mistakes – and using them as important learning opportunities. If workers are afraid of being punished for honest mistakes, they are likely to play it safe and stay very close to well-established, tried-and-true solutions. (p. 165)
While followers must be held accountable, creating a no-fail culture will severely cut down on innovation and growth.
These principles presented by Kouzes and Posner (2006), Thomas (2009), and the path-goal theory are also reflected in the transformational leadership model. Specifically, intellectual stimulation, one of the four factors of transformational leadership, involves supporting “…followers as they try new approaches and develop innovative ways of dealing with organizational issues” (Northouse, 2010, p. 179).
Finally, in addition to having the courage to take risks and cultivating this same courage in others, it is also important for leaders to take the time to celebrate success.
[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.” In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration. Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]
- Gill R., (2003). Change management or change leadership. Journal of Change Management 3(4), 307-318.
- Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
- Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
- Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
- Thomas, K.W. (2009). Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.