I spend time “behind closed doors” with leaders, listening to things that they wouldn’t necessarily tell anyone else. Sometimes, I am able to hear things that others may not hear.
One of the things I hear when I listen well is the courage it takes to be a leader. We often don’t stop to notice the seemingly small, everyday actions our leaders take because their behavor is clouded by the folklore of leadership. We expect them to part the waters and make the impossible happen, when realistically, many are showing courage in small but significant ways all of the time.
As an executive coach, I have a view of leadership courage that rarely has to do with making water part. I am often struck by how difficult it is to do the every day stuff that makes a leader, a leader.
Some examples of courageous acts that never cease to astound me include:
- Standing up for an employee when nobody else will;
- To delicately “coach” the boss;
- To alter one’s own behavior in ways that can be uncomfortable but is for the “greater good” of the organization;
- To give credit for success away to others.
Even now, when the photos of dejected Lehman employees carrying their boxes out of their offices is fresh in our minds, it is wise to remember that there are lots of good leaders out there. When boss-bashing seems to be the norm (and in many cases, it is deserved), it becomes important for us to recognize that there are good people trying to lead their organizations and communities in the best ways they know how under very difficult circumstances. And because the stuff of everyday leadership seems insignificant, these leaders do what they do without notice, much less thanks or praise.
Being a leader, by its very title, can be a lonely job. It sometimes pays well, but not always. It can be gratifying, but more often, it is just plain hard work. It requires taking risks that can transcend an individual and put him or her in personal peril.
Maybe I’m stepping out on a limb here. But I when I listen from behind closed doors, I hear just how hard it is to do the job of “leadership”, let alone do it well. Lets spend some time looking for what our leaders are doing right and celebrating their courage.