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How to Lead with Courage and Resilience

ID-10081666Nine months after her first leadership appointment as Call Centre Manager with 35 team members, Jan was told that her area was to be phased out. This meant that she and her team members would be retrenched if they could not find alternate jobs in the organisation. Due to a head-count freeze, this was unlikely to happen.

She was also asked to maintain “business as usual” until the final closing down of the unit which would take several months.

She had to deal on a personal basis with her own anger and fear about what had happened. At the same time, she had to sustain the resilience of her team members, if she was going to have any hope of keeping the unit task-focused and productive to the very last day.

Ordinary people like Jan are called upon to be extra-ordinary leaders in really difficult times. It’s then that courage plays a central part in resilient leadership.

What is courage?

Let’s explore courage, starting with what it is not. Courage is not about self-serving heroics. It’s not taking action for personal glory. Courage is also not being fearless.

So what is courage? Courage involves being acutely aware of danger and risk, and being willing to confront one’s own fear, pain and agony to take action. Physical courage is actions in the face of physical hardship, pain and even the threat of death. Moral courage is principled actions in the face of shame, opposition, discouragement or personal loss.

Being courageous involves using the fear associated with the danger and risk to spur oneself to action. In this way, courage is the antidote to fear.

At work, leaders need to exhibit bold and courageous leadership. They need the guts to step up and take risks by leading unpopular change. Every day, leaders need courage, for example, in uncomfortable performance conversations or admitting to your team that you don’t have all the answers or taking a principled stand against a decision made higher up in the organisation.

How can one develop courage? Here are four ideas of what you can do to be a courageous leader:

1. Don’t be afraid to be afraid:

Analyse the risk and danger, and confront reality head on. Acknowledge your vulnerability and fears — you need them for courageous actions

2. Celebrate people stories of courage:

Celebrate other people’s courageous actions by holding them up as examples to follow. Give credit to other courageous people.

3. Call on people’s courage:

Verbalise that the task ahead will take courage. Ask people to step up and be courageous too. Demonstrate your courage by admitting your vulnerability and fears and at the same time taking courageous action yourself.

4. Stay grounded in your goal:

Keep reminding yourself about your motivation and end goal. Follow your own path and dream rather than the expectations of others. Hold others and yourself accountable to the end goal.

The following is an exercise to help you build and sustain courage — to feel the fear and yet act anyway.

1. Think of a time as an adult when you felt afraid and yet acted in the face of that fear:

a. What did you initially think and feel?
b. What helped you overcome those fears and enable you to act?
c. How did you feel after that?

2. Think of a time as a child when you felt afraid and yet acted in the face of that fear:

a. What did you initially think and feel?
b. What helped you overcome those fears and enable you to act?
c. How did you feel after that?

3. Reflect now on the situation that you are facing where you need to be courageous.

a. What are the fears that are holding you back from taking action?
b. What is the very worst that can happen and what’s the realistic chance of that happening?
c. Can you use the skills and other people that were helpful when you were courageous, in this situation?

Resilient leaders are always courageous leaders. It’s not that they are fearless. Indeed, they are acutely aware of the dangers and risks of what is required of them. They harness their fear to drive courageous action.

These actions and exercises helped Jan be courageous keep her team on- task and productive to the last day.

Could they help you to be courageous too?

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).

Building Resilience workshop

Building Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Mental Strength training

Mental Strength Training

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).


Grateful thanks is given to Melanie Greenberg on whose work the courageous exercise is based. For more information visit her here:

Image courtesy of Valdo at