Courageous Leadership ACT I

“The great need for anyone in authority is courage.” ~ Alistair Cooke

While walking the neighborhood with my dog, I came across one of those free book exchanges. I’ve been parting with some of my books using these, and recently picked up one that I have been reading this week, “Courage: The backbone of leadership” by Gus Lee. In it, Lee outlines three acts that define the courageous leader:

  1. Honoring and Respecting ALL Persons
  2. Encouraging and Supporting Others
  3. Challenging Wrongs (in individuals and the institution)

This week, I focus on the first act only because each one deserves a week of focused action and reflection.

Honoring and Respecting ALL Persons – To honor means to respect and esteem highly. Many times we erroneously equate respect with recognition. They are different. Both are needed, but they mean different things. Respect means that the lowliest performer or most challenged worker receives attention, regard, and is listened to. This is a discipline. It is not done by playing favorites based on performance, personalities, pride, or punctuality. Respect is NOT merit. To courageous leaders, respect is unconditional. All persons are expected to do their best, to act as a team, and to align their behaviors with the organization’s high core values. None of that can happen if respect is not uniformly and consistently practiced. So, what does this look like in practice?

  • Whole presence: Be totally and positively present with the other person. No multitasking. No looking at work on the desk, the monitor, your nails, your watch, or the door. No calls or interruptions.
  • Excellent body language: (Note that this cultural) Generally, face the other person squarely. Be open. Make friendly eye contact, and when appropriate, smile. Smiling is the most powerful and encouraging function of your relational face. It declares it is safe to talk to you.
  • Careful, respectful, and thoughtful listening: Understand what is being said, and let that shape what and how you speak. We remember 80% of the feelings in a conversation but only 20% of what was said. Therefore, how often trumps what. Eleanor Roosevelt was legendary for her competent communication skills. When she was with someone, she made them feel as if he/she were the most important person in the world at that time.

Honoring and respecting all persons is tough and demanding. It takes backbone. The courageous leader clearly and decisively differentiates between people who need (and rightfully should) to be recognized with awards, promotions, bonuses, etc. Courageous leaders understand that these do not reflect respect – they reflect merit. Therefore, understanding the difference and holding to this difference requires discipline, and being disciplined requires courage. Giving respect, particularly when we don’t feel like it, is a learned skill. It is also fundamental to effective leadership.

This week I want to challenge you to focus on learning and acting on this skill. Personally, I admit to have often fallen into the mindset that honor and respect is earned”. Instead, let us practice honoring and respecting ALL persons unconditionally at work and in my personal interactions. I know for me, this will not be easy. It may be easier to avoid certain people simply because we don’t want to deal with them; they are emotionally exhausting, and it is too difficult to honor and respect them when it is “undeserved”.

However, I do believe we are made by doing hard things. We find out who we really are when we challenge ourselves, when we struggle with adversity, when we step outside our comfort zone, and when we do the right thing.

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