When discussing leading teams, we often focus on skills like communication, leading meetings, check-ins, and technical expertise.
However, the backbone of effective leadership is more primal and potent: courage.
Let’s start with my favorite book and one of the most compelling stories of courage in leadership, which might help put everyday office leadership into perspective: Endurance.
This story takes us back to the early 20th century, to the chilling Antarctica, where explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew faced an unimaginable crisis.
Their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in pack ice, forcing them to endure the harshest conditions imaginable.
Shackleton’s leadership through this ordeal was not just about physical survival; it was about maintaining morale, fostering camaraderie, and keeping his team mentally engaged.
- He made the courageous decision to abandon the ship and camp on the ice.
- He and five others embarked on an 800-mile journey in a tiny lifeboat to seek help for his stranded crew.
- He regularly organized games, singing sessions, and theatrical performances to keep spirits high among his crew.
- He ensured everyone, regardless of rank, received the same rations and shared the same living conditions.
- On multiple occasions, Shackleton gave up his comfort and resources for the sake of his crew. For instance, he gave away his mittens, shared his food, and often went without sleep to keep a watchful eye over his men, exemplifying selfless leadership.
While our challenges in the corporate world may not be as life-threatening as those faced by Shackleton and his team, the essence of leadership remains consistent:
It's about the courage to lead effectively, make tough decisions, maintain team unity, and persevere through adversity.
It’s a common misconception that courage is only required at an organization’s peak. In reality, it’s an essential trait for middle managers, who often act as the crucial link between high-level strategy and on-the-ground execution.
Let’s go over a few
COURAGE TO LEAD situations:
Feedback and Communication
- Constructive Critique: Courageously provide necessary yet constructive feedback to improve team performance.
- Celebrating Success: Acknowledge and praise team achievements to bolster morale and motivation.
- Honest Admissions: Embrace vulnerability by owning up to your mistakes, fostering a culture of trust and integrity.
- Voicing Differences: Fearlessly express dissenting opinions to your manager, promoting a healthy exchange of ideas.
Decision Making and Advocacy
- Workload Wisdom: Assertively manage project timelines, saying ‘no’ to impractical deadlines to safeguard team efficiency.
- Proactive Challenges: Continually push your team towards excellence, preparing them for unforeseen challenges.
- Championing Team Needs: Advocate fiercely for your team’s interests and concerns at higher levels.
- Innovative Leadership: Endorse and defend novel ideas from your team, encouraging creative problem-solving.
Personal Leadership and Team Building
- Recognition and Responsibility: Generously credit your team for successes and shoulder responsibility during setbacks.
- Building Bonds: Deepen personal connections with your team, creating a strong, cohesive unit.
- Feedback Reception: Seek out and act on feedback, demonstrating humility and commitment to personal growth.
- Career Catalyst: Support the career advancement of your team members, even if it means potentially losing them to other departments.
Navigating Workplace Dynamics
- Shielding from Politics: Shield the team from unnecessary office politics and higher management conflicts, maintaining a focused and productive environment.
- Creating Safe Environments: Dedicate efforts to creating a psychologically safe and supportive workspace.
- Delegating and Leading Meetings: Lead meetings, maintain focus, navigate intense conversations, and delegate tasks effectively, including to those higher in the hierarchy when necessary.
- Handling Discrimination or Harassment: Take immediate action when faced with discrimination or harassment within the team.
- Resource Management: Keep innovating regarding the team’s workflow and processes, especially in high-pressure or resource-constrained scenarios.
To name a few. 😁
How to Build Your Courage to Lead
Disclaimer: The following approach is based on personal experience, not clinical trials. 😉
We can use an approach similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to develop bravery in middle management.
CBT’s principle of gradual exposure to the source of fear, leading to increased tolerance and confidence, can be adapted for leadership development.
- Start Small: Begin with manageable challenges like voicing your opinion in meetings or offering positive feedback to a team member. This could be as simple as complimenting a well-executed task.
- Reflect and learn: After each experience, reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Research different ways of giving feedback, positive or negative.
- Expand Your Comfort Zone: Gradually escalate the challenges. Move from sharing opinions to leading discussions on complex topics or from giving positive feedback to addressing areas of improvement with your team or giving negative feedback.
- Celebrate Progress: Every small victory is a step forward. Acknowledge these moments as they build your confidence and capability.
- Repeat with new challenges: Keep pushing your boundaries. With each new challenge, your courage and leadership abilities will grow.
Don’t go it alone. Regularly consult with a mentor or trusted colleague to gain insights and perspective on your leadership journey.
Shackleton’s story in the freezing Antarctic teaches us that being a great leader means having the bravery to face challenging situations and make hard choices.
We might not face icy wilderness in our jobs today, but we still need courage. It’s about standing up for our team, being honest when we make mistakes, and trying new things even when it’s hard.
Confidence comes from repetition; Courage comes from confidence.
Thank you so much for reading!