Essential skills for aspiring leaders: Courage

Being courageous is uncomfortable. In leadership people judge you by your behaviour and it’s your actions that make up your behaviour.

Leaders are built – not born.

No one is born a great leader or manager. They learn, adapt, grow, hone skills and improve – sometimes by trial and error over time.

Be focused and curious – always!

I can attest from my experience that being focused and curious are important. Focus on key strengths and be inquisitive at every opportunity to grow and develop those strengths.

Finding out where to focus and what to be curious about can be a challenge.

Based on my personal experience, these are the 5 essential skills that aspiring leaders and managers need to be successful.

The big 5!

#1 Awareness

#2 Communication

#3 Courage

#4 Humbleness

#5 Ownership

I will dive into the nitty-gritty of these in separate posts.

Work hard, stay focused and develop your strengths. This worked for me and it just might work for you, too.

Today’s post is #3 on my list – Courage. To hone your skills and learn about the other essential skills, click on the links above.

#3 Courage

Being courageous is uncomfortable 

People judge you by your behaviour and it’s your actions that make up your behaviour. If you feel comfortable as a leader then your actions – well, might be, a little light.

What do I mean?

When I became a leader, I felt uncomfortable and have done almost every day since then. I accept that being in leadership also means accepting the feeling of being uncomfortable.

What is making me feel uncomfortable?

Well, for me, it’s because I care. I have a high care factor for the success of my team, for the success of individuals and for the success of what we need to deliver as our work program. I feel uncomfortable that I can’t see far enough into the future to gain a confident level of certainty. Its not all doom and gloom however I accept this as part of being a leader.

I make decisions daily and I am sure you do too. Each with differing amounts of risk, however, each one requires me to have the courage to make that decision. If it’s right then awesome – I learn from it. If it’s not so successful, then awesome – I learn from it. (… I also say doh! quietly to myself).

Fun Fact about Homer Simpson’s famous quote that has no relevance to this post –

In 2001, the word “d’oh” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary; The definition given is:

‘Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish’

To grow your courage, you need to make decisions with confidence. As a new leader, this will help to grow your confidence and in-turn you will make brave decisions.

Courage in you as a leader is a critical component to your success and your team relies on you to be brave and courageous.

Stay calm and lead from the front!

Workplaces can be stressful at times, especially as more and more organisations are reducing their staff numbers. I know of some leaders and managers that prefer to keep their head down and don’t say much just so they fly ‘under the radar’. This is a safe option for them however, they are not in my opinion, leading their teams as best as they can.

Leaders lead and as such they must demonstrate confident and courageous behaviour. If you take a risk and deliver it in the right way you can’t fail.

What does leadership courage look like?

What does brave leadership look like

As leaders of people, we have a huge responsibility. In my role I don’t always have all of the answers, however what I do is communicate often to my team. I am open and honest and make sure I let them know what is going on and what decisions need to be made.

(cheeky plug – see my previous post for more tips on communication skills)

The more they know (that’s appropriate for them to know or need to know) the better they can provide input and expertise. This helps me with decisions and helps the wider team – win-win.

How do you know if you are a courageous leader? Have you spotted yourself displaying one or more of these traits?

  • Communicating, even without all of the answers
  • Protecting the team and ‘going into bat’ for them
  • Making a decision for the team
  • Seeking feedback about themselves
  • Being ‘real’ with the team – even if its awkward
  • Being humble if a decision went sour
  • Owning it
  • Managing under-performers

It takes courage to be a leader and these skills are worth mastering through practice.

67% of us think difficult conversations suck!

67% of managers feel uncomfortable talking to the people they manage (reference by the Harvard Business School). From this research its pretty obvious that – by virtue of their name – difficult conversations are bloody difficult! (for my international followers ‘bloody difficult’ means very or very-very, depending on the situation!)

I have recently found a great video from Mel Robbins called – How to have difficult conversations, and I would like to share it with you. Big kudos to Mel who, in this short clip, talks about her secrets to having difficult conversations and some techniques to make them successful.

I know you are busy making courageous decisions so, to help you out, I have written my super-quick summary below:

Techniques for difficult conversations

  • Untangle your emotions from the subject matter
  • Acknowledge responsibility
    • Admit what part you played in the scenario
    • Did you avoid dealing with this sooner? (as it’s a difficult conversation)
    • Accepting some responsibility helps put the other person at ease
  • Define the outcome for the conversation
    • Have a goal for the conversation to reduce the roller-coaster of emotions
    • The outcome helps you come back to the reason for the talk and keep emotions in check
  • Listen and validate
    • Say what you to say then listen – don’t argue
    • Validate/confirm what they are saying
    • Say things like – ‘wow, that must quite tough, or, ‘thanks for sharing this with me’
  • Restate the outcome (defined earlier)
    • If you find the courage to have this conversation – keep talking until you hit the outcome
  • Rehearse it before hand with a friend
    • Learning to separate the emotion from doing it away from the things you really need to talk about.

To view the clip click here – Mel Robbins: How to have difficult conversations


Being courageous is something that takes time. It’s something you will do for yourself and your team. Sometimes you will even have brave conversations with your manager or their manager – and your team won’t even know it. That’s okay because, as a courageous leader, your job is to protect them.

Be brave, be bold and be courageous! Feeling uncomfortable as a leader or manager is okay – it means you care and you are truly leading.

Never stop learning,


In the next post I will talk about the next essential strength aspiring managers and leaders need to be successful – #4 Humbleness – the secret weapon to your leadership success.


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