When courage isn't enough

January 21, 2019

I’ve always believed that having courage is a big part of being a leader. When others are counting on you, you need to have a strong belief in what you are doing, a deep belief in yourself, and a commitment to sometimes having to make unpopular decisions.

Of course to be courageous as a leader, you need to have courage within yourself – courage to be decisive; to trust your intuition; to be vulnerable; to take action and to be open to learning.

But what if courage alone isn’t enough?

By my very nature, I am an action-oriented person. I assess a situation quickly, make a decision and then act upon it. Now whilst that seems to fit the criterion of ‘being decisive’, this is not without its risks. The risk here is that when you marry action and impatience, you can find yourself in a constant state of ‘winging it’. In your desire to act, you can miss the warning signs and rush into a situation unprepared - a bad zone for everyone involved.

For me, this propensity to action and impatience, without allowing myself enough thinking or preparation time, led to me being totally exhausted and overambitious in my goals.  I was the classic,constantly busy executive with nothing but an endless list of ‘priorities’, a constant sense of urgency, a feeling that I never had enough time and a team that was periodically left behind.

I am probably being a bit hard on myself with that description. On the positive side, I was also decisive, clear, and could inspire momentum and energy in my team and those around me. I was also known for fixing problems and getting sh*t done.

The question for me over the past year has been how to balance, or better yet integrate, the right levels of decisiveness, action and courage to ‘just have a crack’ with the appropriate amount of consideration, thinking and preparation time.

My personal growth has led me to realise that it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’. You can’t be all action, all the time, and conversely you can spend waaaaay too much time polishing and perfecting and never doing anything!

The latter has always been one of my biggest fears. I have seen too many people paralysed into inaction by over-thinking, the fear of failure and the never-ending quest to perfect something that will never go anywhere, that to me it’s always seemed far better to ‘just get in there and have a go’ rather than be too scared ever to try.

That said, what have I learned from this self-reflection and experience that is useful?

It has taken some time, but I actually think I am getting close to having the right balance of action and preparation. As is often the case for me, I experience my biggest light bulb moments when I am doing something seemingly unrelated to running or leading a business.

At the end of last year, my husband Greg and I had a brilliant time going at warp speed (well it felt like it to us!) around dangerous roads on a tarmac rally in the high country of Victoria. As the navigator, my responsibility was to give Greg guidance around upcoming twists and turns and plenty of dangerous corners. It made me think about how dangerous this sport could be. We had a great time and came through without a scratch, but there were plenty of our fellow participants that weren’t so lucky.  

In many cases, they came to grief because they had plenty of raw ‘courage’, but gave no thought or consideration to their environment or abilities. They went in to some of these corners blind, with nothing but speed and enthusiasm – and maybe, too much ego. In comparison, the experts rarely crash. They spend hours in preparation and honing their skills. They don’t wing it. Despite the fact that they are, by their very nature, risk takers, they de-risk the situation as much as possible, and then commit totally.

Business is no different.

If you want to be the best, and to be an effective and courageous leader, you need to constantly hone your skills, put in the preparation, allow yourself enough time to de-risk the situation, and then have the courage to trust your gut and make the decision.

So this brings me back to the concept of courage.

As I have already described, I have always been one to go all in. I need to believe, and when I do, I fully commit. I will make hard calls. Go first. Put myself out there. Have a crack.

But as I get older (I mean more experienced!),my self-reflection and experience have made me realise that courage by itself isn’t enough. Courage alone can lead you to jump in and commit to situations that you haven’t fully thought through, and when others are relying on you - or looking to you for guidance and inspiration - that’s a risk you can’t take.

So my insight this week is that it’s not enough to have be brave and go all out.

You need to be brave, and considered.

Do your thinking before committing to action, calculate the angles, de-risk, and then trust your gut. Sometimes this process can only take a matter of minutes or even less.

And herein lies the true skill of a great leader. They look before they leap, but they have enough trust in themselves to be decisive and make a call.


If you need help:

·        Becoming an extra-ordinary leader;

·        Learning how to trust your decisions;

·        Getting the balance right between action and thought; and

·        Going from being a thoughtless action taker, to a deliberate one -


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