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  • Writer's pictureMark O'Neil

The last of the 10"Cs" of great leadership- COURAGE: The ultimate characteristic.




We started this journey over a year ago, with what I thought would be a simple treatment of my "10Cs" of leadership. That is, what did I consider to be important in the development of a leader. I spent a 40 year career watching and learning from some of the best leaders one could ask for to work for and with.


What I had in mind with the first blog, where I proposed these ten characteristics and what they mean, is that I would combine what I was hearing from my clients with what I was reading, or what I had experienced as a CEO. The main purpose was to organize my own thinking in a way that I could make sense out of the material published on leadership and see what I agreed or disagreed with. The intent was to categorize it all in a way that a.) made sense and b.) could be expanded or contracted, depending on my audience. Also, at this stage of my life, I have been convinced that what we have been doing in health care for those decades, was good and worked. At the same time though, I have become convinced that what we have been doing in the past will be wholly inadequate for the future. I am on a mission to get the younger leaders in our profession to have the courage to try some new and innovative approaches. A recent article in Beckers claims that 40% of the Healthcare organizations are not profitable. Not good!


The job was more difficult than I thought. It was helped by many of your comments on my blogs, so much so that I changed and combined many of the characteristics as I went along.


Let's remind ourselves one more time of the 10 "Cs":


CHARACTER, COMPASSION, CONNECTED, CONFIDENT, COMPETENT, COLLABORATIVE, COLLEGIAL, CURIOUS, CULTIVATING COURAGEOUS. Those of you who have been paying close attention will note that I have made some changes to the original list.


When I started this blog, I asserted that there were two characteristics that I could not compromise on, those being Character and Courage. I still feel that way.


In today's discussion on courage, I would like to point out that it is strongly linked to character. You need both to be a great leader. Miss one of them and you may find that you are leading, but something significant is missing. A key component of character is the willingness to do the right thing, even though it can be hard. Often doing the right thing goes "against the grain" when "group think" is in play. Sometimes doing the right thing means a certain amount of pain over the short term, while best for the long term. Doing the right thing also sometimes means doing the least wrong thing. Because of these difficult barriers, lacking courage is often evident.. resulting in maintenance of the status quo.


A word about fear. Before moving on with courage, there is a need to discuss fear. Often times, this is the key variable that gets in the way of courageous leadership. The neuro-scientists will tell us that we are wired to deal with fear. It is a normal reaction to "danger behind the tree in the jungle". In almost any decision, it is necessary to deal with this head on. When developing, the "cons" of a decision, we need to make sure that we are putting fear in its proper perspective. Sometimes justified, but most often bogus. Am I going to lose my job? Will I look like a failure in the eyes of my colleagues? Will I do harm to people I like? What is the best way to avoid failure? This is just a sampling of reasons to let fear prevail.


Key components of courage in leadership:


  1. Decision making. Courageous leaders make tough decisions, often using incomplete information. They are willing to make the decision and take calculated risk. It calls for them to take responsibility when they are wrong.

  2. Vision setting: It takes courage to go against the grain and the status quo. They champion innovative ideas and drive change, even when they encounter resistance.

  3. Integrity and Ethical behaviour: Courage enables leaders to act with integrity, uphold ethical standards and make the right decisions, even when they are unpopular or difficult in the short term.

  4. Facing Adversity: The most adverse situations usually end up in the C-suite. Courage allows great leaders to remain resilient and steadfast, providing trust and confidence on the part of their team members.

  5. Empowering others: Courageous leaders empower their team members by encouraging them to take initiative and develop their own leadership skills. This often involves trusting others with significant responsibilities and supporting them in their growth.

  6. Authenticity and Vulnerability: Showing vulnerability and authenticity requires courage. It involves being honest about one's limitations and mistakes. In turn this fosters a culture of openness and trust within the organization.

  7. Advocating for others: Courageous leaders stand up for their team members, advocate for justice and know the needs of their teammates.


There are ,of course, many examples courageous leadership. General Eisenhower always comes to mind for me , given what he was facing with 250,000 men, many of whom he knew were going to die and not having certainty about many key factors. He weighed the risks (there were many), wrote a letter a-priori taking sole accountability for the decision and praying for the best.


Closer to the business application of courage, Steve Jobs had the courage to stick with innovation as his driving force as he built Apple. Have you seen many Blackberry's lately? Bill Gates knew that it was the Application that was important in computing, not necessarily the computer. Henry Ford may be an example of, with the benefit of hind-site, was not so courageous: "They can have any color they want, as long as it is black". At the time, I suppose that it was somewhat courageous, but it turned out to be an invitation to many others to enter the market. Courage is a long term proposition, and it is not for the faint of heart!




THIS ENDS MY SERIES OF BLOGS ON THE "10Cs" of leadership. I've enjoyed doing the series and particularly enjoyed your helpful feedback. I'm thinking of turning this into a book. I don't even know how to start, but I suppose I can muster the COURAGE to give it a try!!


Your thoughts?? see the complete series at:







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