Leading in Turbulent Times Requires Courage


It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – J.K. Rowling

What does it mean to be a courageous leader in today’s professional workplace? Why is it so important? Exemplifying workplace courage promotes responsible transparency, which leads to the open and honest communication that is essential when an organization needs the truth to make informed business decisions – especially in a complex, turbulent business environment.

If you embody the value of courage within your organization, then you will create an environment of professional safety where colleagues can be open and honest when it matters most. Are you living in a courageous organization? Do *your* leaders promote courageous communication?

Without courage, the information that is presented to senior leaders is not real or honest, and in today’s dynamic marketplace, this could prove disastrous to an organization.


Courage on Display

I once saw workplace courage on display by a senior leader who was truly scared for the future of his organization, the 400+ employees, and for his own job! With market share and revenues starting to decline, he knew that something had to change in the organization to start moving the needle back in the right direction. After making a significant investment to fly all of the product development teams (from across the globe) to a single office, he kicked off the first day with a courageous, unrehearsed message that sounded something like…


I know we’ve come here to work together for a couple of weeks, but I fear that your efforts will be wasted unless I’m completely honest with you all right now. We are here because we are in a real crisis, and if we don’t find a better way to work with each other, we are going to go out of business.

At the moment, I have no answers for why we aren’t working effectively as a product development team….

Yes, the senior leader made mistakes … we all make mistakes … but in a moment of authentic courage, he was completely honest in sharing how lost he was at that moment. I still remember hearing his voice crack when he said the word “crisis” – it felt real and had a powerful impact on everyone. In that same conversation, he also chose to fully EMPOWER the teams with decision-making authority…which wasn’t easy, because the product development teams had been led astray in a toxic, fear-laden culture that squashed innovative thinking and poisoned the soil needed for trusted relationships to grow. His moment of courage sparked courageous moments from others throughout that two weeks (and beyond) … which led to meaningful and significant improvements in the product teams’ effectiveness.


*Vulnerability* is the birthplace of joy and creativity.

– Brené Brown

The courage exemplified by inspirational researcher Brené Brown in her TED Talks is practically surreal, especially on the TED Talk stage. If you haven’t watched them yet, then consider experiencing them the way I did recently – but please note that she makes some points using personally sensitive subject matter. First watch: The Power of Vulnerability (2010), then follow with Listening to Shame (2012). If you watch them in order, you will experience some amazing vulnerable moments in the 2nd talk as she reflects on the days after she delivered the 1st talk. For me, this cemented the inseparable connection between courage, vulnerability and trust.


Bringing It Together

To lead with courage requires genuine vulnerability in front of others. Learn to see vulnerability as a strength, then you can confront fearful workplace moments with a calm, genuine leadership signal that sets the example for others to follow. In turbulent times, the future of your business might depend on it.


What is this like in your organization? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.


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