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Influential Leadership | Great Leaders Require A Great Deal of Courage

Social, Ethical, and Intellectual challenges in leadership are greater today than at any time in recent memory. The actions of leadership are hugely amplified in the microcosm of social media with instant opinions, hot button flashpoints, and macroeconomic, social, and political issues in upheaval all at the same time.

Leadership requires courage in many forms: Social, Ethical, Emotional, and Intellectual are normally the sources of courage that leaders need to be effective in their roles.  Some leaders require a great deal of physical courage because their roles put them in the way of potential bodily harm by the nature of their work: public safety, utility work, construction, and materials to name a few.  Influential Leaders are deeply connected in organizations and are inspirational figures; they establish their leadership by exhibiting courage earned through everyday successes and occasional failures.

The Social Courage to Lead

Everyone is a leader – the first person you lead is yourself.  Aside from leading yourself, it takes great courage to lead.  Social, Ethical, and Intellectual challenges in leadership are greater today than at any time in recent memory.  The actions of leadership are hugely amplified in the microcosm of social media with instant opinions, hot button flashpoints, and macroeconomic, social, and political issues in upheaval all at the same time. It’s more difficult to lead today than it has been since the 1960s.  Influential Leaders build their authority by Connecting throughout an organization with their team, other individuals and teams, and other partners, vendors, and customers external to the organization.  Influential Leadership is flat, agile, and highly networked and the authority to lead comes from demonstrated success, Accountability for failure, and a willingness to accept the risk to move the organization forward.

The power of the network is based on empowered and engaged individuals and teams and that level of connection requires Social courage.  The network being built internally is personal and professionally social.  Getting to know people and connecting with them creates a powerful flow of authority as people align behind you.  But that also requires Influential Leaders to be Accountable and to act.

Organizations across the country have acted and engaged in the Social upheaval of the Black Lives Matter movement.  As an Influential Leader, you could ignore BLM but at the risk of destroying a network that may have taken years to build.  This is the risk of the networked leader – the network can be broken if it is not managed properly.  This is one of the reasons why organizations have aligned themselves on social issues ranging from climate control to immigration to black lives matter and anything that disrupts organizational performance due to social issues.  Embracing the issues can earn additional connections inside and outside of the organization.  But Social action also strengthens the networks that have been built and leads to higher overall performance through shares values of the people that work for them.

The Ethical Courage to Lead

Ethical Courage is often spoken of as “integrity” but Ethical Courage is more widely viewed as standing up for the core values of the organization and what it believes to be right.  Influential Leaders have three principles to maintain: Influence, Performance, and Engagement.  Influential Leaders align organizations to achieve the purpose and goals of the organization while working toward an envisioned future. 

The purpose and goals of the organization are founded as part of the Core Ideology which includes the values that guide the organization along the way.  Ethical Courage requires organizations to act on and defend their values in how they do business and how they interact with customers, communities, stockholders, and stakeholders of the organization.  When organizations fail to follow their values, the organization can endure a great deal of stress.  As an Influential Leader, your role will be to uphold and at times exceed the values of the organization to move the business forward.  That courage may come when passing on a customer, a deal, or a merger where the values of your company might be compromised.   

Ethical Courage requires the organization to defend their employees when they adhere to their values and to sanction them when they do not.  Adhering to your company values increases brand value as the promise of economic delivery is aligned to the stewardship of living by your values. 

The Intellectual Courage to Lead

Intellectual Courage may be defined as having a need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints that evoke strong negative emotions and that have not been given serious consideration.  The challenge of leadership, from mid-level leadership to the top executive suite is substantially more complex in the age of information and millisecond news cycles that can damage brands, reputations and literally shift millions of dollars in market valuation from an errant comment.  

The Intellectual Courage to lead is that organizations are developing a conscience.  The conscience is linked to their values and visions for the future and driving them to make business decisions that are not wholly focused on short term profits.   The long term well being of the organization and their stakeholders is rising in importance and their actions locally and globally are earning them enhanced brand value.  Climate change has been embraced by organizations that are looking to reduce pollution and their ecological footprint.  Intellectual Courage requires organizations to embrace changes that may be unpopular in elements of the public but have long term economic value for the organization.  This is a seminal change from a few decades ago and Friedman economics that focused solely on profit maximization.  More organizations driven by Influential Leaders are choosing profit optimization and considering the use of their wealth and power to effect real change at short term risk to the organization.

It takes courage to lead.  Social, Intellectual, and Ethical courage are required to navigate the complexity of political, social, and ethical upheavals and enable organizations to thrive and prosper.


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