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Courage – Leaders Go First

Someone has to go first. Why not us?

The silence told me the team was scared. I asked the question and nobody said a word. I was working with a group of seasoned law enforcement professionals. Most of these men and women had put themselves in harm’s way on multiple occasions in their careers. They ran towards the danger when other people ran away from it. But today, in a classroom, they were all ruled by fear.

I had asked them about their command staff in their agency, and nobody wanted to be the first to speak up. I had seen it before. It didn’t matter if I was working with leaders in one of the world’s largest computer firms, a non-profit or with law enforcement agencies. Nobody was willing to say anything…until somebody was willing to be the first.

Courage begets courage. When one person is willing to lead from the front, they set the example for others. In combat situations the first person to leave the foxhole inspires others to follow. At the swimming pool, the first person to jump off the 10 meter tower is followed by the rest of the group. And in this case, in a training room full of tentative officers, one person led the way. That was when everyone else began to talk.

Who will go first? We all know that uncomfortably long pause where everyone is debating whether they should go first. For the people who always stay quiet and never go first, they have developed a habit. Their habit is letting fear make their decisions. For the people who lead from the front and decide to go first, their habit is to take action even though there could be risk involved.

In law enforcement, the military and in firefighting, physical Courage is a requirement of the job. These professionals choose to put themselves in harm’s way and take action. Most of us will rarely have to make those choices – and we should respect and honor these people for making those choices. But all of us have another challenge we must face.

Moral Courage is required of all of us. The moral Courage to go first and speak up is not job dependent. It is a moral obligation for all of us. We all face these choices and all develop habits based on how we respond to these choices. The more we choose to listen to fear, the more we will choose it again. Conversely, the more we choose Courage, the more likely we will be to choose it again.

For many people, choosing Courage is just a matter of seeing someone else choose Courage first. But someone has to go first! What about us? It is amazing how courageous a group of people become after one person exercises Courage. When one person has the moral Courage to speak up, the rest of the group follows.

There are plenty of good people who want to say something, they just need a Leader of Character to set the example and exercise the Courage to go first. Why shouldn’t that person be us?

Dig Deep Questions:

● When have you seen the Courage of one person spread to others?

● When do you wish you had spoken up in the past?


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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