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A Leader’s Courage is Contagious

The role of a leader is not to stay silent and comfortable. My silence was a character flaw driven by fear.

“I can always count on him to call BS when I need to hear it.” Periodically my boss would make that statement about me. Was that a compliment? Was I a disruption? Was I just a naysayer? Or was I contributing something to the team? I wasn’t sure at first.

As part of our leadership team, I found one of my roles as the years went on was to ask the hard questions. We would have quarterly meetings where the leadership team would take broad corporate strategies and tweak them to fit the customer base in our region.

Sometimes our boss would come in with some strongly held opinions on how we should implement corporate guidance. What I noticed early on was if the boss shared his ideas upfront, the rest of the leadership team often kept their own opinions to themselves. If those opinions deviated from our leader’s ideas, people would only voice their dissent privately with each other.

In my early years on various leadership teams, I did the same thing. Sometimes I was unsure of my opinions. But many times, I said nothing because I did not want to rock the boat. I was concerned about being unsupportive, being a negative influence on the team or even incurring the wrath of my immediate supervisor.

But, what I realized with time and experience was I was letting fear dictate my behaviors as a leader. When I diagnosed my silence as a character flaw driven by fear, I decided I needed to change. My role as a leader in those meetings was not to stay silent and comfortable. My role was to speak up and help the team find the best solutions.

Some of my peers thought it was too risky for their careers to speak up. But for me, the opposite happened. Our boss began to come to me and ask, “What am I missing here, Dave?” His Humility encouraged me to continue to voice my concerns. Other times, he thanked me and asked for alternatives.

As time went on, other team members began to be proactive in their feedback. Our discussions in those meetings became interactive and not didactic. We became a team that fought hard for the best solutions and as a result we had more buy-in to those solutions.

Exercising Courage in front of others inspires those witnesses to do the same thing. Like all the habits of character, Courage is contagious.

How can we inspire others through exercising contagious Courage ourselves?

  • Respectfully ask “Why?” or “Help me understand your thought process…”

  • Be sure your boss knows the impact the decisions may have on the front-lines. Because of their position, they may need our perspective.

  • Offer alternatives to the plan. Don’t just shoot the plan down.

As leaders, we must realize our actions are always on display. People pay more attention to our actions than to our words. Bold words and opinions that are only shared in private among the team and never reach the leader’s ears, do nothing to make the team get better.

As Leaders of Character, we have to ignore our fear or discomfort when somebody needs to speak up. It may cause some friction within the team initially, but friction is what sharpens a knife. To be sharp, and to make better decisions, somebody needs to be willing to speak up. When someone shows the willingness to speak up, it often inspires other, more hesitant people to do the same. Better decisions are made, the team gets sharper, and we get more buy-in.

Dig Deep Question:

  • When was the last time you let your discomfort keep you silent?

  • What does your boss, peer or loved one need to hear from you this week?


Taking responsibility and exercising Courage is a lifelong journey for not only you, but your team. We want to partner with you as you make Courage part of your organizational culture. When it comes to remembering the definition of Courage, let us help to make it easy to keep it visible.

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