Thursday, July 9, 2009

Change, Leadership, and the Three Types of Courage

Guest blog post by Scott C. Griffin

Every day we are faced with challenge and change. What differs is how we act, react and the ability to handle the challenge set before us. What differs is how some are able to stand up to these turbulent challenges and find the necessity to make needed changes. Change usually requires courage, and on a grander scale, takes leadership.

The Three Types of Courage

The Courage to Fail
If the corporate environment does not allow failure then the organization will fail to progress and to become successful. Organizations need to have the ability to allow failures as long lessons are learned from the error without dire consequences – hence the cliché “learn though our mistakes.”

Interpersonal Courage
Leaders who excel at interpersonal courage frequently form authentic relationships with their. However, these leaders also display the capacity to make tough decisions regarding people while considering the best interests of the organization. Courage comprises the ability to tolerate risk, ambiguity, and anxiety. Leaders high in courage welcome constructive criticism, admit and learn from their mistakes, and are aware of their own limitations.

Moral Courage
Moral courage is one of the hardest courage of the three. Moral Courage can affect your career and possible future advancement. This is often an area to tread lightly if your career depends on it. There are simpler ways to demonstrate moral courage.

True leaders take responsibility for their actions. Leadership takes courage. Leadership has to face an ever-changing environment just to keep pace. Nothing in life is stagnant and change is inevitable. It boils down to how a leader approaches the challenge of change.

Note: Scott Griffin is a contributor to our Liav leadership community, a graduate of the Keller Graduate School of Management and employed with a local government agency. (


Bret Simmons said...

Good points. I would just add that if you don't learn courage as a follower, you won't have it as a leader. Courage is like a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly in order for it to be useful when you really need it.

Scott C Griffin said...

But being a good leader doesn't make you a great follower!

J Wong said...

Very well said Scott. It is easy to be a leader in good times but not as easy to be a leader in bad. Change is inevitable; a good leader is flexible and adaptable but always true to their core beliefs and morals regardless of environmental pressures. Courage is an important leadership attribute that often times is overlooked in the business world.

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Klint C. Kendrick, MBA SPHR said...

I love those three kinds of courage. I think the most difficult to summon in most organizations is the courage to fail.

A patchwork of laws, ethics groups, and HR departments provide a space for moral courage. Likewise, retention efforts, employee surveys, and space for engagement give space for interpersonal courage.

But few organizations rarely give permission for failure. A great award I heard about a few years ago was at a company that thrived on innovation. They realized that failure was a must in order to succeed. They gave an award to the group that came up with the best idea that didn't work out.

Unfortunately, most corporate cultures don't have the vision to realize how that can contribute.

Jeff Estep - NKF Consulting said...

The courage to "LISTEN". I don't mean just listen when approached by people within your organization... what I'm talking about is the courage to reach out to people and ask for their opinions, suggestions and comments and REALLY LISTEN. When people feel that you are really listening and that you really respect their opinion they will talk to you from their heart and give you insight from many perspectives. I realize this may sound like common sense and you may feel that you are already doing this... I challenge you to step back and look at the way you interact with your coworkers and those that you are "leading".... Many of us feel that we have to act like we know more than those that we are leading... and therefore we aren't always willing to "just listen" we feel the need to comment and show how much we know so that the people we are leading understand how smart we are.... when in reality a good leader should have the courage to listen .... Really Listen...are you willing to "REALLY LISTEN"?

Carl Roetter said...

These three domains of courage are well thought out. I believe the "courage to listen" that Jeff describes fits into both moral and interpersonal courage. If we have led people so that they are willing to respond, we need to honor their courage with listening. The resulting dialog brings out the best in the leader and follower. Courage to fail is also related to moral courage. Given the uncertainties of these times doing nothing is worse that trying something and learning what cannot work. The admission that we will not succeed every time is an acknowledgment that with high complexity and uncertainty comes high probability of "failure". It takes moral maturity and courage to accept that the only real failure is the failure to learn.

Marvin said...

Maybe it's just me, but I find that moral courage is the easiest of the three. I know that I'd die defending my family for instance, but initiating romance or apologizing for leaving the toilet seat up can be torture.

Ryan Quinn said...

Courage is certainly a topic that warrants more discussion--particularly among leaders. I like your thoughtfulness about domains that need courage. You might enjoy the work on courage that I've done with Monica Worline. There is a summary here:

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Kirk said...

Excellent points on leadership. However, what if you have a fearless leader who is not only, not afraid to fail, but willing to see the organization fail?

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