One of the most neglected elements in the discussions of, and writings about, great leadership is the issue of courage.
It is this element which is mostly missing in leadership in our country and indeed in the world today. Where are the Ghandis, Churchills, Mandelas of the world today? We are lucky to have the amazing Archbishop Desmond Tutu who continues, in his advancing years, to stand up for what is right and to defy the government on important moral and ethical issues. But having said that there is a severe dearth of courage amongst those who claim to be our leaders.
One of the fundamental differentiators of great leadership is courage. Because it is so important let us unpack it a little.
Perhaps the greatest leader of all time Jesus Christ displayed the ultimate in courage by being prepared to die for his people and for the principles that are still at the heart of the Christian religion some 2000 years later. What would Christianity be today without this ultimate sacrifice?!
When Mandela was given his moment in Court he made his statement about being prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die for the principles he had espoused and which today are enshrined in the South African Constitution.
What do these two amazing examples tell us about leadership?
Firstly, leadership is not about popularity. In fact it has very little to do with popularity and many (maybe even most) politicians confuse these two. Leadership has mostly do with standing for important principles and it has to do with communicating these principles and values very clearly. It has to do with making sure that these are immutable and non-negotiable. This takes courage. It especially takes courage when the odds are stacked against you and it seems that all your friends have deserted you as was the case at the trial of Christ.
Secondly, let us look at what this thing we call courage is all about.
If you question anyone who has shown courage they will confirm that they were frightened. Even He who was able to rise from the dead showed fear in His last moments when he called on God and asked why He had been forsaken.
There is no shame in being frightened.
Courage is certainly not the absence of fear. Rather it is the recognizing, confronting, understanding and knowing that fear; even making it your friend that is the essence of courage.
Once you recognize, know and befriend it, you can begin to use the energy it will provide.
As Mandela said, “Often our greatest fear is the fear of unleashing our full potential. It is this fear that prevents us from being the best that we can be”.
One really needs to get to know oneself, to appreciate and recognize one’s talent to begin to be able to summon the courage to use this energy; to use one’s talent for all to see and experience.
It takes courage to risk this exposure, the possibility of being rejected, and then to try, and try, and try again.
Courage is the ability to see beyond the current terrifying situation to the place, the situation for which one is striving. It is courage which earns the respect of those who have placed their trust in you and it is courage which causes them to trust, respect and believe in you and what you stand for. No grandstanding, no nice speeches, no presents, no public relations strategies and no advertisements can ever replace the power of sheer courage!
Scaling the peaks of one’s own Mount Everest of fear, emotionally and physically, is arguably one of life’s most exciting, most exhilarating journeys!
And the prize is incalculable!