“You cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.” ~Stephen Covey
Challenging wrongs, the last element of courageous leadership according to Gus Lee, comes last because it is often the most demanding for leaders. Addressing wrongs in one’s self, in others, and in the organization requires acknowledgement of behavior that you want to change, and it requires courage because this element is typically met with resistance.
Remember that courageous leadership begins with honoring all persons regardless of rank status, education, or power. It also encourages and supports all employees to act rightly. For the most part, most people will not resist these acts, and would probably agree that their organization needs more of it from their leaders.
Courageous leading ends with correcting wrongs, first with oneself. Leaders set the tone of the organization whether they realize it or not. People look to our leaders to see how they themselves behave and what they allow as acceptable or not acceptable. This has significance influence on how everyone under them will behave as well. Look at the current political climate to see this in action. I’ve heard many people express, “this is the most polarized and devisive time that we’ve ever seen!” Why is that? Simply look to our political leaders who have set the tone. I’m not saying it is deterministic of mine or other’s personal behavior, but it certainly has influence on other’s actions. People will either participate in that same discourse or resist it.
Challenging and correcting wrongs takes place at the individual level – within oneself and with others, and then also at the organizational level. At the organizational level, this is where leaders ensure that processes and practices are in place to hold people accountable. This is why this element is met with so much resistance. People don’t like to be challenged nor held accountable. It is one thing to say something, it is another to act on it and ensure it isn’t repeated is another. However, if wrongful behavior is NOT challenged or corrected, then leaders enable a culture that sends mixed signals and/or it may eventually turn toxic. I have seen leaders often overlook toxic behavior over productivity, allowing those who “get things done” to get away with not respecting others. Bold decisions don’t come easy for leaders; it most certainly requires courage.
To succeed in challenging wrongs requires the presence of the first two acts – honoring and respecting all persons and supporting and encouraging them. Courage without honor and respect of all others becomes unthinking brashness, courage without encouragement and support of others becomes grandstanding egotism.
We are our best selves when we champion high principles and demonstrate courage for those who need advocates.
In a principled organization, you will see decision-making employ universal respect, encouragement and support, and the courage to correct its wrongs. So when those organizations face critical points of decision, they are already trained, educated, seasoned, and equipped to test their best principles against the most difficult and painful challenges. They are ready to convert crisis into a triumph of principle.
Like many things in our social and institutional lives, leadership matters, especially, courageous leadership. Courage isn’t always rushing into the fray. Many times it is endurance. Courage is a virtue. It is looking inward; it demands life-long steadiness, firmness of purpose, and consistency; it is the work of a lifetime.
So, do the hard things. Do those things you cannot do but always wanted to try. Start today.