Crisis of Courage?

My last post, Courage— Learned or Innate, seemed to generate some interesting conversation in several forums.  I know the responses certainly caused me to do some more thinking.

First, for those who see courage as only innate, given the lack of courage we see today, what hope is there for our collective future?

Second, if courage is only innate, it would seem, then, that only those courageous few can lead, because we know leadership takes courage.  But, given, then, the limited number of potential leaders—only those born with courage—where might they, the few courageous, lead the rest of us followers to?  That they are courageous says nothing about their motives or other qualifications to lead.

And, third, if we do not see ourselves as among those who were born courageous, are we off the hook—even for leading our own lives?

I think not.  It seems to me that there is a reason that lack of courage has not been admired down the millennia.  Certainly, we have the saying “discretion is the better part of valor,” but when that is said tongue in cheek—emphasizing discretion and avoidance of circumstances requiring courage, we see the speaker as a bit of a fool in the classical sense.

Even a courageous person can be flummoxed in the face of the complexity we are often faced with today.  Courage is not enough.  Discernment is required.  And discernment requires both learning and experience.

It seems to me that, if we are alive today, and if we are among those who have noticed our plight, though we may despair of the problems we see around us, it is incumbent upon us to pay attention, build discernment, apply courage, and lead.

Robert K. Greenleaf wrote the enemy of servant leadership is “strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant.  They suffer.  Society suffers.”  That is certainly true of Pervasive Leadership, and true of the suffering in society today.

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a fair amount of time consulting with a client about a project gone south—way south.  It is clear that though there were many oversight systems in place, none of them worked—for a year.  It is clear that a key person the project depended on gave up hope—for whatever reason and must have lost courage as well.

Situations like this—and the web site designed to implement the Affordable Care Act in my state is another example very public example—make me think about whistleblowers and whistleblowing.  Certainly, this takes courage.  But speaking up—even sharing an opinion in a meeting—takes courage, especially if your opinion is a dissonant opinion.

We have, perhaps, lost our bearings about what is unacceptable rabble rousing and what is good stewardship, what is rebellion and what is deep democracy in action.  We fear taking the actions and doing the things we need to do to lead our own lives well.

And, yet, if we are alive today, and if we are among those who have noticed our plight, it is incumbent upon us to pay attention, build discernment, apply courage, and lead.

Consider this call to action.   In the next seven days, do one or more of the following:

  • Speak up and share your opinion when you might otherwise have stayed silent.
  • Reach out to right a wrong—from something as simple as intervening among children bullying another child on the street to reporting the real facts from your point of view about a work related situation that has a likelihood of harming an organization you care about if not addressed.
  • Talk with your team members about how you, as a team, are manifesting courageous behavior—or not—in your organization.
  • Try on some other experiment in building your courage muscles more appropriate to your situation.

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