thoughts on leadership: courage

I don’t read a lot of fiction. I prefer reading biographies or books on theology or history. People look at me weird when I say this, but this is the truth.

However, there are some fiction that I have enjoyed. I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series because, let’s face it, it’s awesome. J.K. Rowling created an ingenious fictional universe filled with fascinating characters and suspenseful plots and only the occasional deus ex machina.

One thing I really appreciate about the series is her characterization of the main protagonist, Harry Potter himself. Rowling did not make Harry the most powerful wizard (any number of characters were far more powerful wizards than Harry) nor did she make him the smartest, cleverest wizard (That would be Hermione. In fact, if Harry and Hermione ever had a falling out and it came down to a wizard’s duel between the two of them, Hermione would obliterate Harry. This is fact.). Harry did not possess the obvious advantages that a heroic wizard might have. However he did possess one thing in greater quantity than perhaps any other wizard in the series.

Courage.

Time and time again, Harry proved to be the most courageous character in this series. If someone needed to fight a basilisk, doggone it, it would be Harry. If someone needed to have an epic showdown against Voldemort, it was Harry. If you had a problem with a dementor, Harry was your guy. Harry consistently demonstrated courageous character, the next virtue required for leadership.

Leaders need to possess courageous character. Courageous character is the ability to do what is right, no matter the personal cost. It is willing to do what may be unpopular or difficult because you truly believe it is the right thing to do. As Liz Lemon would say, “Sometimes the right thing and the hard thing are the same thing.” Leaders need to be willing to see the world that way and act on the courage of their convictions.

Leaders are called to guide people to the achievement of the organizational mission. Often this requires having difficult conversations with people within the organization who are not doing their part to help everyone achieve their goals. Sometimes, this means risking personal relationships with people in order to call them to more closely align themselves with the organizational mission and ethos. Leaders must often risk fortune, prestige, position in order to keep their followers focused on the task at hand.

This is why the virtue of courage is so essential for leadership. One cannot lead others without it, for there is nobody leading the leader. He is the pioneer, forging through the frontier on the way to their goals. He is blazing new trails and hoping that he is not leading others into disaster.

Besides, who wants to follow someone without courage? A leader without courage will never take you someplace new, or adventurous, or even mildly exciting. I don’t find anything compelling about safe, small plans; I want someone who dreams big and does what it takes to chase those dreams. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

So, to Dynamic Determination and Intellectual Flexibility we add Courageous Character. Like Harry Potter, we may not be the most talented, gifted, charismatic, or skilled leaders, but we can possess great courage. As Dumbledore himself told Harry, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” As leaders, it is our job to lead others through the darkness by avoiding what is easy and doing what is right.

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