I have been working with a group who are transitioning from Follower to Leader and we talk a lot of the ‘attributes’ of a leader. The number one question that keeps coming up is what characteristic makes a good leader?

I have come to realize that I was never as concerned about my boss’ technical expertise as I was with his or her moral courage, probity and ethics.


Coincidentally Abacus Research recently announced a new poll examining Canadians opinions of the Leadership answering the question by saying:

“Leadership can be hard to define – but … people … know what they like when they see it. We gave respondents a forced choice question about what was most important to them in deciding to support a … leader.  By a considerable margin, “values” (42%) were identified as the top quality to look for, followed by judgment (29%).  “Ideas” (15%) and “attitude” (13%) were well back in consideration.[i]

What matters most in a Leader:”

For me, Values & Judgment add up to Moral Courage. In the past, courage has not been recognized as an important attribute for business leaders. This is changing: Future leaders will need the ability to act courageously.

Without question, innovation is needed in “for’ and ‘not for’ profit businesses, but it is courage that makes change possible.  Rosabeth Moss Kantor in a recent Harvard Business Review article wrote: ”moral courage enables people to stand up for principle rather than stand on the sidelines”. 

What is Courage in Leadership?

Courage in leadership is doing what is right, despite being afraid or risking negative repercussions.  Fear is the most common reason that people give when they avoid being courageous.  Think about how you feel when you watch a leader who demonstrates personal courage.  Most likely, you will trust that leader more.

Courage comes from feeling very deeply about important values and working to achieve goals that are consistent with those values and  every leader ultimately has the choice to either lead with courage or lead without it.

Examples of Courageous Leadership Behaviours

  1. Moral courage & humility when providing honest feedback in conversations and discussions or Managing up to your supervisors or boards
  2. Allowing alternative & opposing viewpoints to be shared with the rest of the team.
  3. Speaking up rather than being compliant in silence.
  4. Leading through change & not settling for “we have always done it this way”.
  5. Taking ownership when you are in uncharted territory and the safe path is to do nothing.

Developing Courage

  1. Be very clear about your own vision and values.
  1. Scripting in advance what to say
  1. Anticipate those who will disagree
  1. Have the honesty to admit when you have made a mistake or took a wrong path.
  1. Be willing to entertain new ideas and change your assumptions.

Courage is a learned skill and all of us have the capacity to be courageous … to be courageous means stepping of your comfort zone and taking the risk.

As we invest in the future & emerging leaders isn’t it better that we learn values, judgment and moral courage in a SYSTEMATIC and PURPOSEFUL way instead of allowing them to muddling through?




[i] http://abacusdata.ca/, retrieved 1 Sept 14


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