A courageous leader is not afraid to say, “I don’t know,” and is open-handed with information. These actions encourage criticism, yes, but also engagement, guidance, and suggestions from others, creating avenues for collective excellence. Courageous leaders take more than their fair share of the blame and less than their fair share of the credit.
Courage is requisite to building character. For 2022 and beyond, the example I want to see is courageous leadership.
Teach for the Philippines selects high-potential staff and participants and develops their leadership skills for service to our country. We have trained 320 Filipino professionals who have taught over 77,000 public school students. Almost 35 percent of those who graduated from our development programs joined the government; similarly, 40 percent of the tenured public school teachers who joined us have been promoted.
However, Teach for the Philippines’ definition of “leadership” is neither a role nor a position but a collection of actions that set an example. In short, what matters to us is not what we want to be but who we want to be. We do not mind strong characters, but the emphasis is not on being strong; it is on having character.
From 12 years of building consensus and collective action, this is what tells me if I am witnessing courageous leadership at work.
Courageous leaders are accountable leaders. The erosion of ethics typically starts because of speed, pressure, thoughtlessness, or all of the above. Are we surrounded by people empowered to challenge us on our consistency and our biases? Courageous leaders mitigate ethical backsliding by surrounding themselves with people who hold them accountable.
Courageous leaders confront weaknesses. Unfiltered feedback is often difficult to hear, but accepting it from others who are in the arena with you is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Confronting weaknesses also means being comfortable with and curious about our own ignorance. We can’t, and don’t need to, have all the answers. We also shouldn’t hoard ideas and knowledge to emphasize our strength.
A courageous leader is not afraid to say, “I don’t know,” and is open-handed with information. These actions encourage criticism, yes, but also engagement, guidance, and suggestions from others, creating avenues for collective excellence.
Courage requires considering and being responsible for others. Leading is not about you. The very word “leadership” implies motion: a directionality, an intention to arrive at a destination.
Courage requires difficult conversations. As opposed to conflict avoidance, courageous leadership requires fierce conversations with yourself and with others—as often as they are needed.
Courageous leaders know strengths and weaknesses are two sides of a coin. While clarifying what we value and turning our values into virtues (strengths) is a primary determinant of character, if over-expressed, values become a psychological need—a compulsion.
Courageous leaders carry contradictory beliefs. Poet Walt Whitman said it best, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” When studied carefully, some of our values are complementary; others are conflicting. The grace courageous leaders find in accepting their multitudes helps them appreciate the healthy tension between conflicting values rather than perceiving tension as a problem and feeling guilty.
Courageous leaders know not everything is in their control; thus, not everything will work out well. Sometimes ambiguity makes failure inevitable. Those who can face this fear head-on but who remain willing to admit it and keep trying to get it right (and who can help others deal with the same) are truly useful to humankind.
Courage requires considering and being responsible for others. Leading is not about you. The very word “leadership” implies motion: a directionality, an intention to arrive at a destination. Logically, if you are trying to lead folks someplace, it is more vital to our success for you to give us the confidence to be the best version of ourselves so we can then do our jobs for you to the best of our abilities. Courageous leaders take more than their fair share of the blame and less than their fair share of the credit.
I have heard it said that character is like a tree and reputation is its shadow. Integrity, therefore, is the similarity between our tree and its shadow. Said differently, integrity is the congruence of our values and our actions.
Integrity is foundational to being worthy of trust. Already critical pre-COVID, leaders who engender trust are even more vital to society in a post-pandemic future. In a climate of scarcity, fear, and uncertainty, courageous leadership is what I want all of us to exhibit.
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