In the past, physical fitness and bravery was a prerequisite to acquire leadership position. The king, queen or the ruler had to literally lead from the front; meaning that in person they had to be in the battlefield. He/she was the mobile GHQ (General Head Quarters). They took no prompts, no guidance, no direction, received no air or sea cover- the only choice to the leader available was to do it himself, then and there, on the spot, with full responsibility for the outcome.
Today, leadership still requires bravery and courage but not of the type of yester centuries. In a world where without moving out of your chair you can fire an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), from one Continent to another, to the peril and utter destruction of the enemy, we should be very clear of what courageous leadership should mean today!
Courage is all about responsibility and wisdom and being devoid of these two ingredients would be tantamount to ‘adventurism’, which invariably has a fatal outcome. Courage is as much about not reacting, as it is meant and known for action. Restraint is a courageous act, when exercised wisely, judiciously and not because of cowardice.
Bravery and courage in management is not about physical powers of either the manager or his/her reporting constituents; neither is timidity of attitude meant to indicate a person is frail, short-statured, with a skeleton that is devoid of requisite flesh. Courage and timidity are about attitude and orientation.
The trait of courage is synonymous with essential characteristics of leadership. The lack of it renders the leader at the mercy of the trappings of the office held. The acquisition of a de-jure position or office does not automatically confer “courage; all it does is, confer “power”. The ability or inability to use that power for the good of all, determines a leader’s courage or timidity.
Courage is about taking risks. It is an act of choosing between alternatives- the critical decision making. Napoleon’s and then almost hundred years later, Hitler’s decision to invade Moscow in winter, must then have been an extremely courageous decision; but on the hindsight it appears more as “adventurism”.
Courage, as a trait in a manager/leader attempts many a times to leap beyond wisdom. The belief stemming out of the proverbial ‘fortune favours the bold’ can be disastrous, if the pros and cons of decision-making are compromised. A foolish response to a crisis can never be part of a courageous leader/manager. Courage, ought to be, the spirit and soul of virtue. Courage must represent the nobleness of mind.
Those who are afraid of making enemies will never ever have true friends, is an accepted dictum, far and wide. Timid and squeamish attitude will never take the manager to experiment with new technology or even new ways of doing with the present knowledge. Courageous leaders, to know the way; ask the way, with no reluctance.
Exercising a choice between options, placed at the desk of the leader, by his team, is a challenge of courage and wisdom. Following this ability is another level of courage, that of having faith and confidence to delegate. In the delegation of authority to others, the leader exercises an option between say two individuals of similar skills and talent, this is a pure managerial skill based on facts, figures, past performances, etc; but what follows from this delegation, in terms of results, tests the leadership for the courage to “own-up”, irrespective of whether the consequence is a success or failure. Lack of courage imperatively will make it impossible to have any noteworthy achievement.
Courage is the opposite of fear. We mostly fear what never happens. Defeat of fear leads to victory of courage. The sword of a coward can only be cut by the presence of courageous instinct. Cowards die before death arrives. Those who forecast only perils will never set the sails. Courage requires the dare to stare into the eye of the storm of challenges. Falsifying attitude of courage can prove to be suicidal; never use courage as a mask for demoralisation.
Managers demonstrate courage by taking decisions in different and difficult market situations. Once the decision has been taken, they fully own the result, thereof. If the teammates of a manager find in him a reticent - aloof decision maker-, they too, ultimately lose, their own sense of self confidence. Courage is contagious, as bad as Covid-19, in terms of being a pandemic, so is its absence. Courageous leaders are an inspiration. The greatest enemy of initiative is timidity. Managers, with disbelief that they can frighten the bull of challenges from their glass cabins are living in an oblivious state of changing market dynamics. Timidity of thought and action (actually in-action) has no place in the annals of history of leadership. Courage is not representative of claims of controlling events but it is about being in control during events. Sometimes in adversity and despair even cowards show courage.
Insubordination is no reflection of courage. To challenge the manager to prove, without substance, one’s courage is in fact an excellent display of cowardice. Those who take on a lion when he is absent, fear a mouse present. Being courageous, when the leader is in absentia, is also a classic act performed on corporate stage, by the cowards…. When the mice mock/laugh at the cat, they know the hole is somewhere nearby. There are times, when it is courageous to be a coward - sensing danger in the way forward and retreating is not a U-turn, it is a courageous act. Courage knows the audacity of how far to go, without going too far.
The presence of the trait of courage allows you to go against the wind; essentially meaning, the taking of decisions against current trends and forecasts, with a strong sense of conviction about one’s own vision, of how he/she perceives the market to behave in future.
To accept own’s dispensability is a matter of great courage; a trait which must be found in all leaders, for them to qualify, as such. A manager who recognizes that the world has many and better replacements to his ownself, is better trained to take decision of great significance; especially those, whose benefits, he is most unlikely to get; and those that will be reaped by future generations.
Ambition that masks itself as courage is a sin, which many fall prey to.
The writer is a banker & freelance columnist