Manufacturing Practices, Inc. guest blog by Lee Ellis
What is your greatest fear in your work? What is the one thing that you don’t want others to know about you? Perhaps it’s burying past mistakes or poor decisions, or maybe you’re in a new leadership role where you feel ashamed or ill-equipped about your lack of formal education or work experience. If you don’t handle these nagging, fearful thoughts and feelings, then they will manifest unhealthy leadership attitudes like control and manipulation.
Unfortunately for many people, the term courage has been limited to the examples that we see in action films or books—the superhero leaping from building to building, jumping out of an airplane to land on a moving train to get the bad guy, or simply using sheer power and strength to overcome obstacles. In reality though, most courageous acts happen in everyday life, but they may never get as much recognition on the movie screen.
Here are some powerful ways to show courage every day in your work –
1. Be open, honest, and transparent
From my experience as a junior ranking prisoner in the Vietnam POW camp*, I was able to observe the leadership of our highest and best officers and occasionally some of the worst. The most consistent theme was courageous transparency. In the POW camps, all the niceties of leadership were immediately stripped away along with the former advantages of power and authority. Higher ranking officers were naturally the ones that the enemy focused on first and the most often. They were subject to torture more often, more isolated, were beaten more often and yet they still had to lead, make policy and then live by the policies they made. They could not hide their interactions with the enemy because it was obvious to everyone; however, they were transparent about it. When they were beaten into submission, they would admit what they had done. The environment was amazingly transparent. There was no pretending, which quickly revealed true character. There was always temptation to take a shortcut or say something to get the enemy off your back. In that process, I saw that courage was the key to leading with honor.
2. Learn to trust and be trusted
Leaders need to take the time to build trust. It’s so important for success in work, and I don’t believe that much emphasis is given on this important principle during formal training and leadership development. Most leaders know that they need to do some teambuilding, but they automatically think that’s singing Kumbaya and hugs; but to create an authentic level of trust, you must get to know each other. One of the best ways to be open and gain trust is taking a personality assessment and sharing the results. A personality assessment** is the common denominator to understanding somebody’s leadership style, his or her strengths, struggles and fears. Knowing that about each other helps to build trust among team members.
3. Apply accountability through a core set of values and ground rules
The issue of accountability is huge and doesn’t get enough attention; it’s often absent when clarity is lacking. Accountability and clarity go hand in hand, and those two important concepts require leaders to define a core set of values. Organizational or team values have to be operative and not aspirational. You can have aspirational values, but you need to be clear that that is what they are. For instance, if the value is against gossiping but we still gossip, then it’s not a value; it’s an aspirational value. Having those few core values, then preaching them from the highest to lowest levels so they are inculcated into daily work life, builds a work culture. Values will hold you together and give you the freedom to empower people in ways nothing else will. Teams that build ground rules or rules of engagement for how they will work together can hold each other accountable in positive ways.
4. Make steady, daily progress developing your team or staff
Professional development of others may not seem like a courageous act, but to do it on a consistent basis is a hallmark of great leadership. Leaders have to be developing their people all along the way, all the time, and they need to go first by setting an example of personal growth. This allows the leader to have the credibility to mentor, coach, and make expectations known, all the while clarifying why you do things a certain way and telling stories about how you learned about this value or that leadership principle.
Making the Shift
There are many ways to be a courageous leader, and these are just a few practical ways. But you may notice that the common thread in these examples is shifting your inward focus on fears and inadequacies to an outward focus on doing the right thing to be an example and help others. If you’re focused on building and equipping others to succeed, then courage will eclipse your own personal fears. Choose at least one of these courageous acts of leadership, and commit to applying it in your daily work. What other powerful ways do you show courage every day? Please share your comments –
Watch my definition of courage and leading with honor in this clip:
As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, human performance, and succession planning. His media appearances include interviews on networks such as CNN, C-Span, ABC World News, and Fox News Channel. His latest award-winning book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Learn more at www.leadingwithhonor.com.