One personality trait that is most conducive to success in business leadership is courage. A researcher at Harvard Business School found that courage was the one trait that all the best business leaders shared. Courage empowers people to take calculated risks and make the decisions that can transform businesses and even markets. Courageous leaders inspire their team members to take risks that are required for innovation. Courageous leaders have the ability to overcome their fear of failure and make bold moves, even in the face of potential criticism.
Importantly, courage is not something that you can learn in a classroom, as it is not related to intelligence. Rather, courage comes from a person’s heart. Developing a connection between your head and heart can prove difficult. Courage comes from trusting oneself and learning not to take external criticism or judgment too seriously. Following are some steps that business leaders can take to become more courageous:
1. Listen openly to critics.
Avoiding criticism altogether is a sign of hubris. Critics may know some important points that business leaders need to take into consideration. By listening attentively to criticism, the fear of it begins to wane. Without this fear, business leaders can develop their courage and begin to understand that everyone has an opinion and disagreements between people are not inherently a bad thing. Ego can make people afraid to act. Listening to critics helps individuals to control their ego.
2. Work outside of your comfort zone.
Leaders need to consistently place themselves outside of their comfort zone in order to develop courage. Taking risks helps us to understand that nothing terrible will happen when we do. Moving outside of your comfort zone does not mean making rash decisions, but rather doing something that may make you feel uncomfortable, such as giving a speech. Whenever an opportunity arises that makes you feel nervous, that is the time to be bold and make potentially unpopular decisions. Even if people fail in a situation, they learn that nothing worse can happen. Failure can serve as an important learning opportunity.
3. Listen to your intuition.
Just because other people do not think an idea is good does not mean that it should not be pursued if your gut is pointing in that direction. After all, the two founders of Google spent years trying to find people who would invest in their idea before they created their search engine. Although they did not gain much support, they ended up creating one of the most successful organizations in history. People should listen to their intuition about simple things, such as what to order at a restaurant, in order to build trust and work up to more impactful business decisions.
4. Stay true to your personal values.
When business leaders take the time to define their personal values and use them to guide decisions, they can take bold actions with more confidence. Sometimes, staying true to your beliefs can lead to problems, so it takes courage not to waver. A great example of this was when the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, wrote a book that criticized the health care industry in the United States and pushed for a number of organizational changes to improve the health of Americans. He published the book knowing that it would alienate many customers and, indeed, some people began to boycott the store. At the same time, he brought important attention to a pressing issue.
5. Relinquish control.
Delegating tasks to employees involves a certain amount of courage. Entrusting others to take care of important duties helps leaders to become more confident in the abilities of the people around them and emboldens them to have more courage in the future. Delegation also signals to employees that their leaders trust them. Building a culture based on trust at a company can help everyone to become more courageous.
6. Look in the mirror.
One of the most important parts of developing courage is figuring out where we stand and then reflecting on our progress. All business leaders should regularly take time out of their schedules for introspection. They need to honestly account for where they demonstrate courage and where they could perhaps be bolder with their actions and decisions. Leaders who live in denial will never change, while those who are able to reflect on their progress can shape themselves into the types of leaders that they wish to become.
7. Deliver bad news in person.
Business leaders often have to deliver bad news, which can be one of the most difficult aspects of the job for many people. While it takes courage to deliver bad news in person, doing so shows people that they are respected and enables them to become braver in the future. The best way to deliver bad news is in a straightforward manner. When people beat around the bush, they are only prolonging the inevitable pain. Getting straight to the point provides more time for gauging one’s feelings and responding to concerns.