Jeremy Cage, Author, All Dreams on Deck
Far too many companies today are breeding stale ‘senior leaders’. They work 24/7 behind a desk for years and then, when they’re called upon to implement change or make other important decisions, they lack one of the most important tools to be truly effective. They lack courage. It doesn’t matter if you are a genius at analyzing your business, defining objectives, or articulating strategies. If you don’t consistently exercise your ‘courage muscle’ and demonstrate that courage in front of your peers, your superiors, or those you lead, you will not test your limits, and you will fall short of achieving your full potential.
I learned a lot about the importance of courage on the job as an executive at several Fortune 100 companies. But I learned even more during a 16-month voyage sailing around the world with my family. The adventure tested my leadership, my problem-solving skills, my creativity and, of course, my courage. It was clear that much of what I experienced on that trip could be applied to my international CMO job when I returned. And it underscored for me how critical courage is to leadership.
With that in mind – think of the following steps as a fitness program to exercise and strengthen your courage muscle and become a more effective leader.
Set Sail – Your business, project or idea is not going to go anywhere if, as a leader, you don’t have the courage to metaphorically untie the boat and set sail. Far too many leaders sit around debating their strategies and plans. By the time they actually set sail, the competition has already beaten them, and moved onto the next thing. Many automotive companies were talking about electric cars for years. When they finally got around to ‘setting sail’, Elon Musk and Tesla were already in the market with a true ‘no compromise’ electric car.
Venture out in the unknown – It is not enough to just ‘set sail’ – because that gives you the option of circling right back and tying up the boat. You actually have to venture out into the unknown, and take your team along with you if you are going to be a truly great leader. Think Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and so many others. Their leaders had the courage to venture out into the unknown, and they have literally changed the world.
Keep going in the face of adversity – Many of the businesses that exist today, will either not exist tomorrow, or will look substantially different than they do today. If, rather than facing adversity you retreat and go back to the ways things used to be – your company will not adapt to the changing needs of the market, and more often than not, you will fail as a leader. Kodak invented the digital camera, which threatened their profitable film developing business. They did not keep going in the face of that adversity. And went bankrupt!
Ask for help, and give it – As kids we ask for help all the time. It is one of the key ways we learn. And, as kids, when we are asked to help, we often do. As adults, we seem to feel we should have all the answers – even if we don’t. If you, as a leader you do not have the courage to ask for help, you will not learn, and you will fall short. You’ll also fall short if you let ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘I don’t have time right now’ get in the way of giving help when it’s asked of you.
Trust yourself and your team – If you do not have the courage to trust yourself, everyone at the office – those you work for, work with and those who work for you will all notice. They need to know you trust yourself, your knowledge and your instincts in order for you to be an effective leader. And relatedly, they all need to know that you trust them. That trust will instill in them the confidence to take risks, propose new ideas and that will deliver better results.
Listen and accept reality quickly – Another important skill we are rarely taught is how to listen. Many of us tend to live in transmit mode, rather than receive. To be a truly effective leader, you need to have the courage to listen to your teams, to your consumers, and to your customers. And within this, you have to have the courage to accept reality quickly – and ACT. If you have a product problem, a launch that’s failing, an employee who’s struggling – you name it. Listen. Understand. Accept reality – then act with urgency to address it.
Get your hands dirty – There are some things that you simply cannot delegate. Delegation is a real leadership skill – but from time to time – the problems are so complex, divisive or risk laden that YOU have to have the courage to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and resolve the problem yourself.
So don’t wait! There are many, many ways for you to strengthen your courage muscle. The more you exercise it, the more courage you’ll have. When you, as a leader, are then faced with some of the really difficult and challenging decisions – you’ll have the courage to make them, and be the kind of effective leader you have the potential to be.
About the Author
Jeremy Cage, author of ALL DREAMS ON DECK, is President of The Cage Group, which focuses on unleashing the full potential of businesses and people. He has held senior management positions at Procter and Gamble and PepsiCo; served as CEO of The Lighting Science Group; has lived and worked in Sweden, England, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and the United States; and took sixteen months to sail around the world with his family. Cage is also co-founder of several start-up companies in the areas of healthy foods and nutrition. You can learn more at: www.thecagegroup.org.