The Quality of Courage
Courage is one of the most important qualities of leadership. It is courage that causes the leader to launch, and it is also what causes people to rally around the banner of the leader. Courage, wonderfully enough, can be developed. Courage is not something you are born with, but it is something you can learn.
Courage is something that is a habit. You can develop the habit of courage by practicing it. Whenever you have a tendency to hesitate or back off from a challenge, force yourself to go forward. Always be moving toward the things you fear. You develop the habit of cowardliness by moving from or avoiding the things or people you fear. You must go the other way. Every day, you must make it a habit to confront the things you fear, to face the people or situations you fear. Each time you face a fear and conquer it, your courage grows. Eventually, just by continually doing the things you fear, you will no longer fear anything.
One of the keys to courage is boldness. One of my favorite lines is, “Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.” I have worked with many men and women who' ve had great success in business and who had limited talents and abilities and resources, yet they had the capacity to launch themselves whenever they got an opportunity.
Somehow, when you launch yourself continually, things seem to work for you. Forces and people and circumstances conspire together to help you accomplish things in ways that you cannot now dream of. Practice boldness. Practice audacity.
A second key to courage is the willingness to initiate action. Leaders don't wait for someone else to do something. You cannot imagine a successful general who waits for the enemy to determine when an attack should take place. Leaders are attack-oriented.
One of the generals I studied was Frederick the Great of Prussia. (He was one of only a few people to be known as “the Great” in his lifetime.) Whenever he met the enemy, no matter how big the forces, he attacked. If you were an enemy force facing Frederick of Prussia, when he came across you, he would attack. If he had 10,000 men and you had 70,000, he would attack you. His motto: de l'audace, de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace — audacity, audacity, always audacity.
Now, of course, he lost a lot of battles, but he won the critical ones and became one of the foremost rulers of his day. Eventually other leaders knew that if they crossed Frederick of Prussia, he would always attack with all his forces to defeat them
Stay the Course
Another mark of courage is the ability to stay the course. This is often called courageous patience. It's what Margaret Thatcher as prime minister of Britain was famous for. No matter how tough it gets, no matter how much tension or stress you face, stay the course and hang in there. Sometimes, if you stay the course long enough and hard enough, the sun will break through the clouds and things will happen for you.
When Germany seemed poised to defeat England and win World War II, Winston Churchill made his most famous speech in which he said, “We will never surrender!” He proclaimed these defiant words even when others were urging him to make peace with Hitler. Privately, he explained why he refused to give in. “I study history,” he said. “And history tells you that, if you hold on long enough, something always happens.” He was right. Less than a month after this private conversation, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hitler had declared war on the United States, and the greatest industrial power on the planet had now joined forces with Churchill's England.
Dare to Go Forward
Remember that the future belongs to the risk takers. There is no greatness in life among those who avoid taking risks.
Now, that doesn't mean that you have to risk life, limb, and everything you own. It just means that you take calculated risks in the direction of moving forward. Consider the worst possible outcome and do everything possible to minimize unnecessary risks, but then dare to go forward. Perhaps no other quality distinguishes leaders from non-leaders than the willingness and the daring to push forward.