30 Overlooked Acts of Leadership Courage


We often think of leaders as exhibiting big acts of courage – overcoming huge obstacles and saving lives, metaphorically and literally. Yet I’m amazed and humbled at the courageous things leaders do that we don’t think of as brave. The small courageous things that we overlook every day are the stuff that make up the character of great leaders.

You exhibit leadership courage daily in a lot of unnoticed ways like these when you:

Speak up when you know you’ll be judged harshly.

Shut up and let others have their say even if you think you are right.

Give critical feedback to someone in power when you know it might have unfavorable consequences.

Receive critical feedback from others with grace.

Develop others without fear even when you know they may become smarter than you are.

Be kind to those who disagree with you because they might teach you something.

Coach and mentor others even if it’s not part of your job description.

Say no when everyone else is saying yes.

Say yes when everyone else is saying no.

Accept responsibility for the shameful or embarrassing things you’ve done.

Take the high road when you know how difficult it can be.

Walk away when the fight isn’t worth it.

Stay and fight for the greater good when everyone else is running away from it.

Reflect deeply when you really just want to take action.

Love your followers even when you’re unhappy with them.

Forgive others’ failures when you know they’ve learned an important lesson.

Give others credit even when you’d like to take it for yourself.

Keep going when the going gets really, really tough.

Connect with your heart when your head wants to rule.

Connect with your head when your emotions are threatening to take over.

Ask “what’s right” when you prefer to be critical.

Be curious when you’d rather be judgmental.

Step out of your comfort zone when you hate stepping out or being uncomfortable.

Listen to others deeply, without giving advice.

Ask when you really want to tell.

Do things a different way even though it’s “always been done this way”.

See the potential in others when everyone else sees what’s wrong with them.

Admit your failings when you think you’re supposed to be perfect.

Control your impulses and desires when the temptation is greatest.

Reduce suffering because you can.

What unexpected acts of courage will you act upon today?


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I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

19 comments on “30 Overlooked Acts of Leadership Courage

  1. Hi Mary Jo:
    Beautifully written. Thank you for this wonderful reminder to continually connect to our highest selves when we’re leading in organizations or in life – and that doing that often comes in small moments.

  2. Jean, its nice to see you commenting here. Thank you for adding your depth to this post. The small moments are the ones that are most important, and most likely forgotten. And many of them DO take courage! (p.s. I’ve always believed that the best leaders are the best human beings. This list is, after all, about being the best human we can be).

  3. Giving critical feedback to someone in power is a tough one though it doesn’t always have unfavorable consequences. Usually that comes about when you need to step up for the greater good when everyone else is running away. As Jean said, a wonderful reminder. thanks!

  4. Mary Jo,

    Thank you for your post. Courage and risk taking has been a huge focus for me lately. Partially because I am doing so many new things and need those little reminders, and partially because I see people missing out on life because they are so afraid to take a risk. Your list is wonderful! Thank you for sharing!


  5. Rayna, I believe that as long as the feedback is done with respect (as it always should), most leaders appreciate it under any circumstances. Our discomfort comes in not knowing how to give it.

    Chery, best wishes with the courage and risk taking, and thank you for your kind comments.

  6. Hi Mary Jo,
    What a fabulous list. Thank you for putting it together. May put it up on my wall as a daily reminder. Seems our leadership crisis today is a crisis of courage.
    Yes, I agree with Kate, Bravo.


  7. Mary Jo, That was beautiful. So many wonderful points we forget leaders do.

    I especially loved “Connect with your heart when your head wants to rule. and
    Connect with your head when your emotions are threatening to take over.” You really have to be leading for all the right reasons and get your ego out of the way to do both of these.


  8. Wendy, I had never thought of a leadership crisis being a crisis of courage. Great thought, and one I’ll ponder on. Thanks!

    Connie, secretly – those are two of my favorites too :). Thanks for stopping over.

  9. Outstanding. In particular, I really like “Connect with your heart when your head wants to rule.”

  10. But please keep in mind that using these tips to try to get ahead at your job isn t what it s all about. Many of them may require a dramatic shift in the way you act or the way you think about yourself in relation to other people.

  11. “Shut up and let others have their say even if you think you are right” – so hard for so many to do but such a powerful quality of a leader. Thank you for sharing this great post. I noted how many of the items are related to communicating. So often I think people forget how important our communication style is to successful leadership.

  12. Wow there is a lot here in your list. What do you think underlies all these qualities? For me it’s a sense of psychological maturity where the leader has let go of their own ego.

  13. Love this post. It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said,”Courage is every value at the testing point,”.

    Thank you for highlighting that all leadership begins with small acts…

    Happy New Year!

  14. Hi Mary Jo,

    Powerful message! Mastering self leads to personal excellence and through this to private victory, the gateway to success in personal and professional life.

    These beads of wisdom are transformed into a string of success and excellence when faith, trust and purpose becomes the link.

    Expecting similar presentations in 2012. thanks.

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