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How to Become a Courageous Leader

How to Become a Courageous Leader

We all know that effective leadership is needed in the workplace to succeed. However, let’s take a closer look at the art of leadership. What does it truly take for a leader to be successful and effective? How do leaders approach difficult situations and find the inner strength to lead their teams to success? The answer is courage. 

What is Courage? 

Courage can take place in various forms – from being the first one to speak up in a meeting to thinking of a new solution when presented with a problem to admitting when you do not see the situation like others. While courage has a broad definition, it is ultimately not allowing your emotions to get the best of you and persevering through your feelings with actions. As Susan Jeffers says, we must feel the fear and do it anyways

When courage is combined with leadership, it produces a powerful combination. Courageous leaders are able to endure through difficult situations and grow from their experience. As a result, their growth mindset will trickle down to their team members, thus creating a positive team environment. 

At EI Experience, we believe that courageous leadership stems from emotional intelligence. When leaders are vulnerable and express their true emotions, it will directly benefit the team and organization. Team members will be encouraged to share their own feelings and offer support to their leaders, creating a culture of transparency and collaboration. Why Emotions Matter states that when leaders ask for feedback about their leadership, it will shape the leader’s professional development – making them more decisive and successful. The truth is, leadership is not a solo mission, unless you create it that way. Courageous leaders welcome their team members onboard and navigate through the journey together. 

Your Key to Courageous Leadership

As mentioned above, an essential aspect to mastering courageous leadership is to develop your emotional intelligence competencies. Not only will your emotional intelligence skills contribute to a greater understanding and management of your emotions, it will also propel you to make better decisions and manage stress more effectively. Below are a few of the emotional intelligence competencies that will help you become a more courageous leader. 


Assertiveness is the act of communicating your beliefs and thoughts openly in a respectful and non-offensive manner. Assertiveness plays an important role in courageous leadership, as leaders must voice out their opinions, regardless of what others may think or say. Leaders who are high in assertiveness are able to stand by their beliefs and present new ideas without a fear of judgement; they are okay standing on their own if their ideas are unpopular. Assertive leaders do not impose their ideas and want everyone to follow suit; assertiveness is not about getting everyone to agree with you, but voicing your opinions and declaring your stance. Courageous and assertive leaders are also comfortable with welcoming in opposing viewpoints. 

For example, speaking up to present a new, risky idea to your team members is an act of practicing assertiveness and courageous leadership. It can be nerve wracking to present a brand new idea, especially if it has never been done before. Choosing to speak up instead of staying silent is an act of courage. By presenting this idea, you have voiced your ideas out loud to the team, and are welcoming feedback. 

Interpersonal Relationships

Interpersonal Relationships is a competency focused on developing strong and mutually beneficial relationships. In the workplace, it is crucial for leaders to have healthy, supportive relationships with their team members. As a result, their team members will feel cared for, creating a supportive team culture. An example of how a leader can demonstrate they care about their team is to stand up for their teammate in times of adversity. Swooping in to display support for your team member will not only deepen your relationship with each other, but will make your team member feel valued. 

It is also critical for leaders to develop trust amongst their teams in their relationships with their staff.  And gaining trust takes time.  So, how do you build trust? You always actively listen to your team’s viewpoints, you respect your employees’ work boundaries, you resolve conflicts in healthy ways, you are dependable for them, you care and show consideration of their needs, and you always are consistent with your words and actions.  If trust is built, you both can have the courage to disagree respectfully with each other, offering a different way forward than previously considered.  If you have a trusting relationship, where you can challenge each other’s ideas, you allow more innovative ideas to emerge.

Emotional Expression  

Emotional expression is the ability to showcase your emotions, both verbally and non-verbally. Expressing emotions (especially those perceived as difficult or negative) can be a great act of courage, especially if one does not openly share their emotions. However, when leaders begin to truly show the emotions they are feeling, the workplace becomes more open and transparent. For instance, a leader who admits that their project has failed, but shares the lessons they learned in the process is a prime example of emotional expression, vulnerability, and courageous leadership. 

In terms of emotional expression, the leader is acknowledging their emotions of disappointment associated with the project failing. In addition, admitting that a project has failed may not be an easy pill to swallow, but it spreads the message that perfection does not exist and that mistakes do occur in the workplace. Lastly, teaching the lessons learned from the process of a failed project is an act of courageous leadership. Although the project outcome may have not been the way the leader originally envisioned, being able to find lessons from their experience showcases that their leader wants the best for their team; they want their team to learn from their experience and not make the same mistakes as they did. 


Optimism is keeping a positive outlook despite setbacks. Optimism also includes looking for new opportunities when faced with roadblocks. Courageous leaders who are high in optimism have a growth mindset. A growth mindset enables individuals to enjoy challenges, continuously learn, and see potential to develop new skills. In contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset possess low optimism as they believe things will stay the same and struggle to pivot their outlook. To illustrate, let’s use the example of COVID-19. 

COVID-19 forced businesses to change their business model and practices to adapt to the changes imposed by the global pandemic. A courageous leader with a growth mindset will recognize this as a learning opportunity and a chance to pivot; despite the changes, this will be a great opportunity  for the team to develop their adaptability and work together to find a solution that works best for them, given the current situation. However, a leader with a fixed mindset will see the situation in a different light; they will view the circumstances as something they cannot change due to the heavy weight of the world-wide issues, and believe their team can’t handle it.

Unlock Courageous Leadership with Your EQ Competencies

Your emotional intelligence competencies will guide you to the path of courageous leadership. By becoming a courageous leader, you will be able to embrace difficult situations with a growth mindset and persevere through any challenge that comes your way.  

Becoming a courageous leader is more crucial than ever to create a culture that propels your team forward. Want to learn more about how to enhance your leadership repertoire? Check out our Values Based Leadership Workshop, available in live or virtual delivery. For more, you can read our blog, The Art of Authentic Leadership, to learn the importance of embodying the message that it is OK to be human in the workplace. 

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7 Traits of Successful Leaders

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Have you ever wondered why some people are so successful while others are not? What is the secret ingredient to their success? Well, here’s the truth…there really is no secret. Success is like baking a cake, everyone has their own favourite recipe, but the basic ingredients are the same. All successful people, regardless of their age, gender, education, upbringing, type of business, etc., hold similar qualities or traits.


The 7 key traits that every successful leader has

1. Self-Awareness 

“To be self-aware is to, in a sense, have a different level of control over your actions and choices—and to operate from a perspective that is not fueled by short-sighted and often ego-driven desires”. Look at your life as a neutral observer and not as a participant; almost like you were watching a movie of your life from up above. This will help you gain a different perspective, and you can clearly see yourself with a new lens.

Effective leaders are always looking inward and self-reflecting. They understand what they value and what motivates them. They focus and play to their strengths, while always looking for blind spots, and discovering areas to improve.

Knowing is the first step. Once you know better, you do better. Self-awareness is essential and successful people are always perfecting their talents, and learning from their failures.

2. Courage

Courage is believing in yourself and knowing that you are bigger and stronger than your greatest fears. When you believe you can handle anything regardless of how frightening it may be, you will have the courage to do it. In her book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers shares that all of our fears stem from a lack of trust in ourselves. “Every time you encounter something that forces you to ‘handle it’ your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way, your fears are diminished immeasurably.”

How often do you get out of your comfort zone? Why don’t you push and challenge yourself more? Think about it, how many times have you stepped out of your comfort zone and then said to yourself, “I don’t know why I didn’t do that earlier?” Having courage allows you to make the commitment to begin something new without any guarantee of success.

It is only in the moments when we step out of our protective barriers and into the unknown, that we truly grow. Sometimes the first steps out of our comfort zone are awkward or painful, but they are always learning moments. Anyone can do it. We all have the courage to be fearless, brave, and continue to push ourselves and maximize our potential to achieve more.

3. Passion

What does passion look like? When someone has a passion they typically exude confidence and are fully engaged. This enthusiasm becomes contagious to those around them and generally drives ideas and people further.

It is amazing how far passion can take you. When others may be willing to quit, passion is the fuel that will push you on. It will keep you going when the job is unpleasant, or the results aren’t what you want them to be. Passion will give you limitless energy and motivation to push through the many difficult challenges that come across your desk.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, turned his passions into a successful, booming empire. “Passion is one of the most effective motivators when it comes to launching a business – and often one of the strongest predictors of whether an idea will lead to success” (Richard Branson)

4. Perseverance and Determination

It’s easy to quit. It’s easy to walk away. However, you do not achieve success by wishing for it. Perseverance is about the strength of mind and body, collectively.

People who are determined and willing to persevere are more motivated to accomplish more goals, or rise to the top. Determination, resilience, and perseverance leads to success. We all know that overcoming setbacks rather than giving in to them is difficult. But all things are difficult before they are easy.

Determination is not something that can only show up in the workplace. It manifests itself in many aspects of life, including personal hobbies and sports. Recently, we have been witness to great accomplishments in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. These amazing athletes remind us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they are willing to go to any lengths to achieve success and reach their goals. Natural talent certainly plays a contributing role; but sometimes, people who lack extraordinary talent, can accomplish great feats through sheer willpower and determination.

5. Empathy

Empathy is putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes; seeing things through their eyes and feeling their emotions. It’s about relating to others. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (Theodore Roosevelt).

When you lead with empathy, you take into consideration the trials and tribulations that your employees face on a daily basis, and then you can start to comprehend their world. Once you have some context, you then need to find ways to communicate with them so they will hear you. The best leaders lift people up. When employees feel heard, cared for, and respected, they are motivated to achieve more.

The success of a team depends on its leader. Employees may come and go, but if they are merely going through the motions to get to their weekend, then you aren’t getting the best out of them. Ask yourself – are you in tune with your team, or are you singing a completely different song? If you are truly connected with your team, you will get their extra effort without having to ask.

In the book Contented Cows Give Better Milk, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden make the case that treating people right is one of the best things any business can do for its bottom line. People who feel cared for are more committed, motivated, and engaged; they will typically give the extra effort to soar to higher heights without ever being asked. Therefore, building strong relationships with the people who you work with and truly understanding and getting to know them is what leads to success in business.

6. Flexibility and Adaptability

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to be passionate or perhaps even dogged about what you do; however, being inflexible about current market trends, client needs, and adopting new approaches, will lead to failure.

What makes a business leader successful is their tendency to listen and follow their heart and passions, while also making a business out of their ideas. Ignoring customer needs, and advances in the global business world will not bode well on their journey to success. Truly successful people are open to all suggestions to optimize and customize their ideas. This will help with enhancing their viewpoints and offerings as well as satisfying market conditions and client needs. Successful people are willing to change course to overcome challenges and adopt new ideas, rather than clinging to opinions and actions that may, or may not, be working. As a leader, flexibility is essential and will allow you to perform well when conditions are characterized by rapid change.

Flexibility allows us to move to a place of openness and possibility instead of being stuck in limiting thought patterns. Flexible people accommodate different interests, as they have an easier time shifting their approaches to meet the needs of the many people involved. This makes it easier to acquire allies and develop influence in an organization. In addition, truly successful people are willing to get their hands dirty and try on different roles and wear many hats in an organization. Therefore, it is important to be willing to learn on the go.   Rarely are successful people ever given the luxury and time of truly being ‘ready’ – to have every single duck in a row before they have to make some big decisions. They sometimes need to just go with the flow.

7. Focus

Focus is key to happiness and success in life but it can be difficult to steer away from distractions and keep on track. Successful people are able to pay close attention to what is happening in the present moment and stay on task. This habit ensures that they are fully engaged in their work, and are able to get more done in a shorter amount of time.

One common misconception is that multitasking means you can get more done, but this has proven to be false. One realization study shows that multitasking can result in up to a 40% loss of productivity. In the absence of multitasking, there was a 59.8% in the average number of projects being completed and a 35.5% reduction in the time spent to complete a project. In order to increase productivity, successful people must learn to break their bad multitasking habits and concentrate solely on what is most important.

Successful people are able to avoid and eliminate distractions and concentrate on the task at hand. It is easy to get distracted by a new email in your inbox or a call asking you to take on another last-minute task, but these types of communications tend to divert attention and energy and lure people away from their main focus.

Successful people discipline themselves to stay on track. They relentlessly pursue what really matters to them. They have prioritized what’s truly important against what seems to be urgent, and they don’t get sidetracked. The greatest leaders are those who say ‘no’ to most things…why? The answer is simple, successful people focus on only the items that are absolutely necessary, and ignore the rest. They are laser-focused on what’s really going to help their business grow.

Ask yourself – how strong are you in the traits that I listed above? Like every professional – in the office, in the boardroom, or as we see on the sports field, we have strengths, and we have areas to improve on. It’s acceptable to admit that we need to work on certain characteristics, and it’s equally important to ask for help or coaching from others.

EI Experience and Carolyn Stern work with businesses to help make them better. Why not find out more about our services?

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