How to cultivate courage in a leadership role

Every week, I’m at the allotment. There’s something soothing about tending plants; it gives me time to reflect, to see the garden as a perfect metaphor for leadership. The garden can represent both the challenges women face in leadership roles and the inner growth we all need to lead as authentically as possible.

In our modern world courage is seen as heroics. To most, courage is best displayed by Saint George gallantly slaying the dragon and saving the damsel in distress. Given this meaning, it’s often hard for a woman leader to be courageous and take risks when you are in an environment that constantly judges you and remembers every little mistake you make. In this blog, I’ll touch on the true meaning of courage and how to develop your own way of leading courageously no matter the situation.

What is courage?

First, let’s get to the root of the word ‘courage’, and the best way to do this is to look back at the etymology of the word. Courage comes from the Latin word ‘Cor’, meaning heart. Therefore, courage is best summed up as having a heart. By remembering this original definition, we can take courage away from its noble and heroic connotations and transform it into something useful – a way of encouraging a woman to use her heart and passion to develop her strength and leadership qualities; something that makes courage less of a ‘big deal’ and more of a new branch or leaf.

Harnessing your vulnerability

To dive into this further, due to its deep connection to the heart it is vital to note that courage is built upon a foundation of vulnerability. In her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, Brene Brown powerfully describes courage as follows:

“It’s about speaking openly and honestly about who we are, what we’re feeling, our experiences (and what truly matters to us). Heroics is about putting your life on the line. Courage is about putting your vulnerability on the line.”
Brene Brown

As I described before, true courage is hard for a woman in leadership to display as the environment in which she operates is often hostile and unwelcoming. So too is the garden to a flower. A flower must contend with insects, harsh wind and other plants trying to flex their muscles and leech nutrients from the ground. To survive, the flower must stand up for itself and not be afraid to occupy the space it stands in.

Courage in leadership often involves taking the path of most resistance and standing up for your vision and principles even when the easiest thing to do would be to back down and stay silent.

Setting your boundaries

So, how do you develop courage? Well, courage is built on vulnerability and vulnerability is deeply tied to setting clear boundaries. During my female leadership classes, I place great emphasis on teaching women how to set and maintain their own boundaries. The trick is to learn how to set them in a professional and powerful manner, and how to defend them if they are threatened.

Following your heart

Once you have discovered how to turn your vulnerability into strength, it is important to channel this strength in a way that can positively impact your leadership qualities. For example, learning how to set clear boundaries is a fantastic way to let your colleagues know exactly what you expect from them. This, in turn, can help to nip misunderstandings in the bud before they happen and will embolden you to demand more from your co-workers.

Or perhaps you get into a disagreement with one of your team about a particular work method. Before you may have been content with sitting back, giving in, pulling away just to keep the peace. Now, with your newfound courage, you have the power to stick to your convictions and let your voice be heard.

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