Three Defining Characteristics Of Courageous Leaders

Every generation has called for more leaders – courageous leaders – who will stand up for good, wholesome principles that have the betterment of people and planet at their core. We do know we need them, across all sectors of our society. But do we need to define that they are ‘courageous’ leaders? Or is courage a given character trait of good leadership?

Courage is a vital virtue of good leaders, “those who would rather challenge what needs to be changed and pay the price, than remain silent and slowly die inside” (Andy Stanley). Yet every situation that calls for courage involves some kind of uncertainty and some kind of risk, which in turn implies vulnerability. Not a characteristic most would associate with courage, but one that Nelson Mandela intimately understood: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

It takes courage to see challenges as opportunities, to address injustices past and present, and to shape society’s future direction. And the courageous pioneers who do, share these three main characteristics: They have deep conviction, they can effectively tap into unrealised opportunities, and they view themselves with humility.

Deep Conviction

Leaders of businesses that make a tangible difference in society – while also making a profit – have a passion for the wellbeing of people. This deep conviction leads to a business approach that is centred on being a force for good in society, a selfless and authentic motive outside of profit.

Profit is essential – because without profit a business would not be sustainable and the passion to make a difference would remain a mere desire and not become reality – yet the conviction to be good and do good determines the ultimate end of the business, by shaping both the day-to-day decisions and long-term investments that together ensure a lasting positive impact.

Unrealised Opportunities

Courageous leaders view the world differently. They see frustrations, constraints and differing perspectives as fuel for innovation that drives solutions.

They are curious, and can be found immersing themselves in new contexts to give them a broader understanding of and insight into their ever-changing landscapes. This enables them to identify where pain points exist and drives their passion to engage more effectively through their business to provide a different service or offering and thereby turn unrealised opportunities into real gains.

Humble Approach

“True humility, scientists have learned, is when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the centre of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognising his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognising his flaws, he asks how he can grow.” (Ashley Merryman, The Washington Post).

Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is having a right view of your skills, character and position. It takes a courageous leader to not have all the answers and to see the skills and understanding of those better equipped to meet the challenge. It takes vulnerability to seek assistance, ask good questions and build partnerships to achieve the greatest possible outcomes.

The three characteristics briefly described above are simple, yet require authenticity in heart and approach to truly be a force for social good.

In the social development landscape, we often see business people impose their views and preferred solution on those in the development sector. However, there are many credible social impact groups who have already learned the hard lessons and therefore understand the landscape. The key is to find the right partner and have the humility to trust their judgement on how to engage constructively in building the social fabric of our nation. Those investing in these partnerships experience greater joy with each life that is transformed.

Within our local business community where the economic and social realities are challenging, courageous leadership is the only approach that can ultimately redefine our society.

Let us engage our entrepreneurial spirit, let us think creatively, and let us work together in finding solutions to the unique complexities that our colourful nation presents us. Let us find the courage in each of us, and let us lead.

Keri-Leigh Paschal is the Executive Director of Nation Builder.