Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Courageous Leadership

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about courage and leadership; but in the direction of making moral judgements. So I thought that a little foray into just what courageous leadership was might be in order.

According to Daft (2005, p. 237), courage means "asking for what you want and saying what you think". It means that we will speak out in order to influence those around us. Daft talks about the "Abilene Paradox" (2005, p. 237) which is our very human tendency to NOT speak our honest thoughts, so that we don't hurt others - or because we want to please others. The "Abilene Paradox" is the product of author and scholar Jerry Harvey. He wrote up the story of how four of his family decided to drive to dinner in Abilene, Texas on VERY hot day.. just when the car's air conditioning wasn't working. After a miserable trip, everyone admitted on their return they hadn't wanted to go, but went along to please everyone else. Each family member thinking that the others had wanted to go. So courage is indeed "asking for what you want and saying what you think" (Daft, 2005, p. 237) (you can read about Jerry's work at http://www.xecu.net/schaller/management/abilene.pdf).

But equally, courage is also about accepting responsibility for our own failures, weaknesses, shortcomings and mistakes. True courage is not about being blind to our own faults, but acknowledging them and trying to improve them. It is understanding that every day, we can all improve.

However, I don't think that ends what courage in leadership is about. If we try to envisage someone who is a really courageous leader, we tend to think of those who fight for what they believe. They fight for their particular desired outcomes - opposing unethical conduct, injustice, inequality, a better way - that will benefit many more than merely themselves; in fact, often, they themselves will not benefit. Think Mahatma Ghandi. Think Nelson Mandela. Think Joan of Arc.

In order to be able to fight, courageous leaders tend to be non-conformist. They see beyond our current world, and into an ideal world of the future. Courageous leaders tend to see their vision so clearly that it is easy for them to influence their followers, and convey their vision, so that followers see it and are inspired by it.

Because they fight, and because they are non-conformist, courageous leaders will push beyond their own comfort zones, and get past fear. Amazing acts of bravery, often undertaken by ordinary people, but in extraordinary times.

We have many examples of courageous acts of leadership in our modern business world. Anyone who has heard a whistle-blower's story (ie, employee disclosure of illegal, immoral or unethical practices in the organisation) will understand the courage it takes to keep the flag aloft until the world is ready to hear you. Think those who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry. Think the women who uncovered Enron's dirty little secrets. Or you could check out the Fox News Investigators' story at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZkDikRLQrw&feature=related (Achbar, Abbott & Bakan, 2003).

Courage. It is an amazing human quality that we should all honour.


References:

  • Daft, Richard L. (2005). The Leadership Experience. USA: Thomson-South Western.
  • Achbar, Mark, Abbott, Jennifer & Bakan, Joel (2003). The Corporation: Fox News Investigators. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZkDikRLQrw&feature=related 
Sam

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