8 ways to develop your courageous leadership

Anne Houston is a consultant, coach and Social Enterprise Academy Tutor based in Glasgow. She has worked at senior management level over the last 25 years in the public sector, is qualified in Neuro Linguistic Programming and Social Auditing, as well as being an accredited coach with the UK Association for Coaching. 

There are many benefits to having courageous leaders within an organisation and many people believe leaders have to be courageous in order to be truly successful. 

Bold, confident leadership can help drive organisations forward and create growth, something that's undeniably positive. Courageous leaders lead their organisations in authentic and sustainable ways. They stick to their principles, are willing to innovate, take risks, make changes and won’t walk away when times get tough or things are difficult.

Courageous leaders are able to create a culture of trust and respect, which makes those around them be prepared to follow them. This all creates a recipe for success, development and evolution within an organisation.


What does courage look like in a leader? 

1) Having the courage to seek and receive feedback

A courageous leader is someone who isn’t afraid to honestly and openly seek out feedback from those around them. They’ll be open to listening to the unfiltered feedback (which may not necessarily be easy to hear) and will be willing to learn from and make changes based on this. 

2) Having courage of convictions

Courageous leaders must be prepared to hold steady and be absolutely clear on their values and principles at all times. They must have the courage to stick to these, even when the easiest thing to do is to compromise in order to chase profits, reach targets or avoid difficult or crucial conversations. They will always strive to do what is right, rather than what is expedient. ‘Why do I do what I do’? is a question they will always ask themselves and challenge those around them to ask too. 

3) Being prepared to let go of ‘precious practices’

Someone who is a courageous leader won’t be reluctant to let go of doing things in a way that it has previously always been done. They’ll have the skills to recognise when a practice or way of doing things is no longer working or fit for purpose and will have the courage to challenge this . This means they must be prepared to let go, take risks and try new things.

4) Having the courage to innovate

Courageous leaders aren’t reluctant to innovate and do things differently. As Dr Carol Dweck acknowledges, the word FAIL means First Attempt In Learning.  Therefore, courageous leaders must also be able to accept (in themselves and others) the potential failure that may come from trying to innovate and see failure as a learning tool for future business growth and development.

5) Having the courage to admit mistakes 

Being able to admit to mistakes and vulnerabilities is something all courageous leaders must be able to do. By staying in ‘adult’ mode and acknowledging errors and vulnerabilities, leaders create a culture of trust with those around them.

6) Having the courage to challenge yourself to be different and think differently.  

A courageous leader must not be afraid to embrace diversity in all its facets, seeing diversity as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

7) Having the courage to have difficult conversations

Courageous leaders should not walk away from having potentially difficult or uncomfortable conversations. Instead, they must be strong enough to initiate difficult conversations and work through them in order to move forward. This means having real, honest conversations, even when there is the potential for conflict.

8) Having the courage to step out of unproductive or unhelpful situations

A courageous leader must be brave enough to both recognise and move away from unproductive, unhealthy or unhelpful situations. They should be able to recognise these for what they are and be able to step away from them towards more positive and productive interventions that help them and their organisation thrive. 


What does courageous leadership look like to you?

Each of these eight skills come together to create a truly great and courageous leader – someone who leads by example and role models the behaviours and attitudes that they would value in others.  As leaders, we need to work out what our own version of a courageous leader looks like and consistently strive to stay in that space.

These eight qualities may sound simple, but if they truly were then there would be many more courageous and inspiring leaders in our organisations.  

What kind of Courageous Leader role model do you strive to be and what steps do you need to take to get there? Tweet us at @SocEntAcademy and let us know!

Do you want to develop your skills and confidence in having courageous conversations?

Find out more about the upcoming Courageous Conversations progamme, starting in Edinburgh September 2018.


NatWest Top 100
Living Wage
Scottish Government