Companies and organizations in the private and public sectors have many leadership succession strategies. These include competencies identified as important for leadership and development plans to teach candidates how to lead. One element (or competency), that is almost always necessary for leadership success, is often left out of development plans and strategies — bravery. At one time in every leader’s career, they will have to stand up and do the right thing (whether it is loved or hated by others). This is bravery and it is crucial to be a successful leader.
Bravery is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear or difficulty.” As leaders, we to have/show mental or moral strength. We must then use that strength to face difficulty in decision-making and risk-taking. True need to objectively look at scenarios and navigate themselves, their followers and the general good safely through to the end.
Being brave means that a leader must do what they know is right (morally, ethically and legally). Blindly following another, based solely on their rank of command, is not a part of leadership and certainly is not brave. Having a title and automatically saying “yes” to every request or decision is not being a leader. Leaders have to be willing to put on the brave face and say “no” to things that are not right, despite whatever negative consequences may come to them. Brave leaders professionally and tactfully question decisions that are potentially too risky or unethical.
Bravery is also how we act towards others. Simply displaying support for others or showing empathy provides strength to difficult situations. Often, everyday actions and experiences engaging with others enable them to deal with their own difficulties or challenges.
I never understood that truly leading required bravery until, several years ago. My supervisor gave me an order that I knew was morally and ethically wrong. I suffered for weeks, asking questions and avoiding implementing the directive that my supervisor told me to do. Finally, I aired my concerns to my supervisor. They told me that “(I) was not a team player” and again pressured me to follow their orders. I had a choice now, I could go along with the plan from my supervisor or stand up for what I knew was right. I stood up for myself and others impacted and harmed by their action.
Subsequently, I was told that I “needed to get my wings clipped.” Within a short period of time I was removed from assignments and moved to a different position. My reputation was severely damaged, and my management deemed me “no longer fit” for leadership. However, I did not stop fighting for what I knew was right. Thankfully, I slowly rebuilt my career, gaining the trust of leadership in a different department. A few years later, I received an apology from new leadership in my prior department for what happened to me. This experience taught me that leading is not about titles and ranks; it is about doing what is right and not being afraid to say “no”.
To be a brave leader:
- Stand up for your morals and ethics, even if it means you may experience something unpleasant.
- Look at yourself in the mirror and respect your decisions and/or actions.
- Know that you took every effort possible to help someone (whether you influence them or not).
- Say “no” or ask questions about decisions that do not serve the greater good.
- Avoid taking the easy way out of a situation.
- Be honest about what you know is right.
It is difficult to teach individuals how to be brave, when faced with difficult decisions. Others may punish you or chide you for your actions, but you will be able to look at and respect yourself in the mirror.
Aristotle tells us that “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” Experience and self-reflection are effective ways of understanding one’s own level of bravery. Doing the right thing is not always easy. Being brave is what makes you a good and trustworthy leader.
Andy Reitmeyer is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is the Associate Director for the Engagement and Retention office, Internal Revenue Service. He is responsible for leading engagement strategies for IRS. He has been part of the IRS Engagement and Retention office since its inception. Andy’s tenure with IRS includes numerous domestic and international senior leadership roles. Andy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Point Park University, a Juris Doctor from Taft University and a Certificate in Executive Leadership from Cornell University. In addition, he has a French Language Diploma from the French Government. Andy is a graduate of the IRS Executive Readiness Program. You can read his posts here.