As we look toward what’s next’, leaders have a unique window of opportunity to reset and rebuild more inclusive, engaging and empowering cultures. Cultures that nurture diversity, normalize candor and unlock the creative ingenuity that fear stymies.
This will require a new style of leadership. A more courageous and human-centered style.
Less polished, more real.
Less cautious, more daring.
Willing to take calculated risks, not play safe and protect self-interest.
Not all leaders will make this jump. Engrained habits – of thinking, doing and leading –die hard. Yet for those who are willing to look within themselves – to disrupt well-worn patterns and confront latent fears – will lead their organizations onto new ground, seizing the opportunities that will abound in the post-pandemic world. Unfortunately, those who remain operating from fear – driven by ego over empathy, pride over purpose – will do the opposite.
While there is no five step recipe for conquering your instinctive drive to avoid loss and protect what you have and lead with courage you want to inspire in others. However here are five ways ups can show up with the courage – amid your fear – and lead everyone to higher ground. After all, who are being will always speak more loudly than your words.
Get ‘On Purpose’
When the pandemic crisis hit, leaders were grappled the question of how best to protect the future of their organization. Tough decisions ensued. But leaders must now be able to answer a new question:
A future for the sake of what?
That is, how is the world – specifically the stakeholders your business is supposed to serve – better off by your enterprise being in business? Who would be worse off if it weren’t?
If you’re unable to answer that question – both succinctly, passionately and in ways that speak to the deep human need for purpose and meaning – you wont be able to inspire people to exit their safety zone, much less pull together and go the extra mile. Perhaps not even the first.
Be Daring, Leading Toward a Bold Invented Future
Adopting a ‘play not to lose’ mindset was not just understandable at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was crucial. But attention must now shift from protecting ‘what is’ to pursuing ‘what could be.’
Lead from a place of possibilities, not probabilities.
Leading toward an ‘invented future’ that expands the context of what others see as possible.
Now is a time to be daring. To think boldly about how you want to pursue that purpose and reshape the future. If the vision you have for your team or organization isn’t exceeding your current capacity to achieve it, you’re setting your sights too low. As Richard Branson shared with me, “If your goals don’t scare you, they’re too small.”
Embrace Your Vulnerability
Our greatest strength is found in vulnerability. Only when you are willing to lower the ‘leader-like’ mask you may have thought you were supposed to wear can you show up with the authenticity needed to meaningful connect and inspire those around you. This doesn’t imply sharing every thought or revealing every struggle. Rather, as I wrote in You’ve Got This!, it means embracing your own humanity and connecting with others from your heart, not just your head. After all, you lead by virtue of who you are, not what you do. In todays’ curated culture of superficiality, people are hungry for leaders who are unafraid to step out from behind scripted speeches and be real.
De-Risk Truth Telling and Normalize Candor
A recent survey found 40% of employees lack the confidence even to share their ideas for fear of being marginalized if they do. Yet what is left unsaid can exact the steepest hidden tax – on teamwork, creativity, trust and innovation.
The wild yet brilliant idea that isn’t proposed. The strategy that isn’t refined. The safety concern not aired. The mistake not confided.
When people know their contribution and input, however divergent from the pack, is valued they will be less reticent to share it. So your job is to foster psychological safety, de-risk truth-telling and normalize candor. Employees need to know that its not only okay for them to be truthful, but it’s expected.
Invite everyone to participate (and call on those who don’t). Acknowledge the ‘outlier’ suggestions. And never respond in ways that make people regret candor, so long its respectfully delivered.
Culture is shaped as much by the behaviors that get rewarded as those which are penalized.
Embolden Others To Be Braver
If you’ve ever worked for a boss who left you feeling small, stupid and disempowered, my commiserations. It’s a demoralizing experience. It’s only upside is that you know what not to do as a leader yourself. Not to shame, blame or marginalize but to appreciate and encourage people. Not just on good days, when they hit it out of the park, but on all days.
To acknowledge the potential you see in them.
To catch them doing things right.
To entrust them to do hard things and make good decisions.
To encourage them to step out of their comfort zone.
To applaud their acknowledge their effort when their actions don’t land the desired result.
To give them ‘air cover,’ a term coined by Timothy Clark in The Four Stages of Psychological Safety and ensure they know you’ve got their back.
Good leaders never kill courage. They inspire it.
Like dessert sands, every workplace culture is continually shifting as people make judgement calls about acceptable behaviors, and then adapt their behavior to establish new norms.
As such, your actions are never neutral. Each create a ripple effect that either unlocks potential or keeps it languishing.
Now is your moment dial up your daring and act with the courage you want to inspire in others. To lay your vulnerability on the line for a nobler cause; making your mission greater than your fear.
After all, if not now, then when? And if not you, then who.
If you take nothing else from this article, ask yourself this:
What would I do today if was acting with the courage I wanted to see more of in others?
Then embrace your fear as a sign that you’re growing into your potential as a change-maker and… just do it.
Courage begets courage.
You can’t lead without it.
Margie Warrell, PhD, is a speaker, coach to change-makers, and bestselling author who passionate about helping people live and lead more bravely. Check out her latest book: You’ve Got This! The Life Changing Power of Trusting Yourself.