When your values are in conflict with decisions that you are being asked to make – what do you do? This is not easy question to answer until we confront the situation. One of my nursing colleagues recently told me that she had established a line for herself that she would not cross when it came to making decisions about staffing reductions. She took an courageous stand with her executive team colleagues. The outcome for her has not been positive. She has now been asked to resign and is somewhat philosophical about her choices. In the past, courage has not been recognized as an important attribute for nurse leaders. This is changing. It is courage that makes change possible but it can come at a price. Rosabeth Moss Kantor in a Harvard Business Review article wrote that ” 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 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. Although sticking to the status quo may be tempting, this is not how change occurs. Every leader ultimately has the choice to either lead with courage or lead without it. Taking a risk in situations where you feel passionately or a deep sense of purpose does not guarantee a successful outcome as my colleague learned. But many leaders over the course of their careers have situations where they did not speak up and later deeply regret it.
Examples of Courageous Leadership Behaviors
- Providing honest feedback in conversations and discussions.
- Sharing alternative viewpoints to the rest of the team.
- Speaking up rather than being compliant in silence.
- Not settling for “we have always done it this way”.
- Making decisions when you are in uncharted territory and the safe path is to do nothing.
The first step to becoming a more courageous leader is to be very clear about your own vision and values. When you are in a challenging situation, it can help if you think about what you will do if your vision and values are in conflict with organizational goals. Scripting in advance what you are about to say can be helpful and anticipate the people who will disagree with your message most. To be courageous, you must also have the honesty to admit when you have made a mistake or took a wrong path. Telling staff that you were wrong in a situation is a powerful act of leadership courage as is the willingness 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 our of your comfort zone and taking the risk. It can also mean leaving a situation rather than staying and making decisions that are in deep conflict with your values. As we move into the future, we will need innovation in nursing and health care that is both ground-breaking and tradition defying. Keep in mind, most great ideas begin in situations where there are naysayers who believe that it cannot be done until it happens.