The key to courageous leadership? Mirrors and windows

“A Leader, first and foremost, is human. Only when we have the Courage to show our vulnerability can we truly lead”

Last week Moorhouse hosted members of the Future Group (a bespoke accelerator programme designed to bring together the key skills and knowledge that future leaders need to reach the top) for a seminar exploring courageous leadership during organisational change.

Courage is a key theme in this year’s annual Moorhouse Barometer on Change, it is a characteristic almost universally supported as a desirable trait in a leader. However, when translated to the workplace its application and success are variable. The Future Group seminar explored the qualities a courageous leader will have and how these can be displayed during periods of change in the workplace. 

A courageous leader has a learning mindset. An analogy referred to in the session really stood out for me as an excellent example of behaviour displayed by a courageous leader. There are some leaders who when things go well will look in the mirror and feel good about themselves. However, when things go wrong, these same leaders might instead look out the window and find others to blame. This would be the easy route to take when facing failure and avoid any personal blame when faced with an undesirable outcome. Courageous leaders are those who when things go well will look out the window and look for people to praise, these leaders will ensure that recognition is given to others in their teams. Conversely, when things go wrong, these leaders look into the mirror and analyse their own actions to understand if they could have acted differently and changed the outcome. It takes courage to accept responsibility and learn from the experience. How a leader uses windows and mirrors will significantly impact their long-term success as a leader and ability to steer organisations through change.

A courageous leader is vulnerable. Potentially an oxymoron when first considered, vulnerability is a trait displayed by strong leaders. Brene Brown a Professor at the University of Houston said ‘Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness’. This is certainly the case on social media where the pressure to be perfect can be linked to social anxiety and even in extreme cases negative public perception and trolling against those who ‘have it all’. A lot of what is posted online is sugar coated and curated, it is genuine emotion and transparency that is a pleasant surprise.  A leader who can choose the right moment to let their emotions out will be compelling and inspiring. 

A courageous leader can’t be measured. It was evident during the seminar discussion that what makes a courageous leader is often subjective. It is not an end state that can be objectively applied to every organisations leadership. Instead it is a set of continuous behaviours displayed over time that will contribute to those around you forming their opinion. There is no single Key Performance Indicator for those aspiring to be courageous leaders to target. It is a leadership marathon rather than a sprint.

It is leaders that take accountability by looking in the mirror; display vulnerability to their staff and move forward that will steer their organisations through change. 

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Helen Richardson Principal