I have a theory: courage is the sinew that connects our thinking to our behavior. It’s not good intentions that get things done, it is courage. We can talk the right talk, we can understand key issues, and we can have all manner of good ideas, but without courage we won’t act on them.
Two days ago, my wife, Margaret, and I were part of an organized “century ride” on California’s central coast. (1oo mile ride in one day on a bicycle.) Unfortunately, her batteries were a little low. She’d been sick a week earlier and after a couple hectic encounters with traffic motivation to continue was waning. At the turn around point, she felt a bit unsettled and would have preferred to stop. However, she made a conscious choice to override her emotions at the moment and continue the ride. It was raw courage. There is no other word for it. It moved me, and it reminded me how much courage it takes to choose to continue when the initial thrill of adventure wears thin.
Every time a leader or an organization attempts change, they face moments it would be far easier to stop moving forward. Every time you or I try to change our ways or accomplish something worthwhile we hit the point where the initial thrill of the project is over and the strength of our courage is tested. When those you lead are pushing back against your because of the price tag of change, it takes courage to continue moving forward. When you are stepping into the unknown, courage is what keeps you from turning back to what was familiar and ‘safe.’
I became convinced long ago that leaders of influence exhibit four qualities that set them apart. They have a clear sense of Calling (passion, direction, etc.) They possess the Competencies demanded by a complex and challenging world. They have Character that runs deep, making them the people others can trust when the chips are down. And the fourth, they demonstrate that often overlooked quality, Courage.
While competency and character are familiar territory, the demand for courage might be the most often overlooked. Without courage you won’t pull the trigger when the going gets tough. Without courage you will sabotage your capacity for influence by choosing the easy road. Without courage, it is easy to give up halfway.
You can have all the insight and ideas imaginable, but when the going get’s tough, what’s in your head won’t translate into behavior unless you also have courage. There is always an easier way out.
Courage is an amazing thing. It inspires others. And it is the fuel that gets things done. I watched Margaret make a courageous choice to keep going last Saturday and watched her ride strong through the finish line because of it.
I hope I can live as courageously this week.