Leading with Courage

In theory, good leadership is easy to understand. However good leadership is not about know-how, it is about show-how, about doing it and doing it well, time and time again.
Often the two classic barriers to change stand in our way – fear and comfort. In particular, overcoming fear requires courage. And in your role as leader of the pack courage is rewarded. Because people like to follow leaders who lead courageously, learn constantly and achieve success. Courage does not mean to blindly ignore risk, but to face it and to overcome it with your eyes wide open. Because every improvement begins with change, and every change requires courage.
When is courage important for you as a Leadwolf? For example, whenever it is not quite clear what the right thing to do really is. Then you need courage to create clarity, to take clear decisions. You also need courage when you lead change, because there are always nay-sayers and procrastinators, cynics and pessimists who are afraid or too comfortable to do the right thing, because it means change, and change is exhausting.
Also in dealing with your own fear, you need courage as leadwolf. Successful leaders feel fear as well, but they do not allow their fear to prevent them from acting and from doing what’s right.

But how do you do that, leading with courage? How do you strengthen courage?

Courage is strengthened by training it, because courage is a muscle. It grows whenever you use it. So train it and allow your staff to train their courage muscle as well. Good leaders do not surround themselves with anxious comfortable followers, but with courageous leaders and help them become stronger and stronger. The opportunity to lead courageously, without fear of failure, is one of the key reasons why I’ve continued working for my first employer for 16 years.

Just one example from that time: When I was a young director in a global consumer goods company, we had a crisis on one of our major brands. Due to our own mistakes we had too high a price vis-à-vis consumers and trade. We just didn’t know which of the two problems was the bigger one. Should we invest more into a lower consumer price or more into a higher trade margin? For a long time, we thought we would have to invest mainly into lower consumer price. One of my colleagues told me one day prior to a decisive management meeting, we should change our plans all over and invest much more into the trade, he just did not have the courage to recommend this late change himself.

So in the morning of the meeting day, I decided to turn our plan upside down, because my colleague was right. I met my boss early that morning and convinced him to completely change our investment strategy. In the meeting I convinced my own team and then our European leader by courageously changing and justifying the plan. After this meeting, my boss said, “Stefan, I back your change and I back yourself, but you should not do such short-term radical changes too frequently, ok?” I learned two lessons: 1. Better make a clear decision earlier on and 2. Always be courageous to do the right thing, even if it means a late change.

How do you lead with courage? How do you train courage?
Here are my 3 best tips for you as a leader of the pack, how to lead with courage:

1. Always make a decision and learn from mistakes:

Face up to difficult situations, even when they are scary, think, start with your success in mind and think backwards from the end. Ask yourself “What is right for our customers and for our company”? Have the courage to dare imperfection. Because our need for perfection often prevents us from taking action at all. Make a decision – always, and not only once you know everything to make sure you are right on 100% of all the detail, but decide when you know enough to be sure you are heading in the right direction. The rest you optimize along the way. So, always decide, always strive to do the right thing and make the best possible decision while allowing for mistakes.

2. Take risk, not comfort:

In order to lead successfully and courageously, you have to take calculated risk. Of course, you should not blindly take incalculable risks. But you should dare many small experiments, use small amounts of money and time, celebrate many small successes and allow for mistakes. In today’s fast-paced world, the biggest risk is not taking any risks. Had I ever looked back on a year with only right decisions and no mistake at all, I probably would have made the biggest mistake of all – I would not have taken enough risk, I would not have developed my business, my people and myself while my competitors continued growing. Many successful lead wolves work outside their comfort zone, in new to the world projects, in unknown functions, in other countries, in other industries, outside their comfort zone. Because that is where you grow. So take risk, not comfort.

3. Allow learning, for yourself and others:

Take some time to reflect: what did I do well last week? What went wrong? What will I improve next time and how? Get inspiration from others, from people you look up to. But do not compare yourself to them. The only person you should strive to be better than is last week’s version of yourself. You may want to compare yourself with the lead wolf you want to become one day. Then you grow, at your own pace, not following expectations and pace of others. Sometimes you have to have the courage to change direction to go your own right way.
And allow the people around you, your colleagues and your staff, to learn courageously from mistakes. Because you do not want comfortable Yes-Sayer around you, but more courageous leadwolves.
Courage is a muscle. Train it!

Net, my 3 best tips for you as Leadwolf how to lead with courage:

  1. Always decide, allow mistakes
  2. Take risk, not comfort
  3. Allow learning, for yourself and others

Thank you for your attention,
Your Stefan Homeister

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