The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh
By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, former Chair & CEO of Medtronic and author of Discover Your True North, has a lot to say about the importance of courage in effective leadership.
Citing several cases of business leaders who showed exceptional courage and saw their companies reap the rewards, he endorses the perspective of poet Maya Angelou, who said: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
George should know whereof he speaks. In the last decade he has worked with and studied more than 200 CEOs of major companies through board service, consulting, and research as a member of Harvard Business School’s faculty.
Profiles in courage
His brief profiles of courageous business leaders are fascinating in their own right – and we’ll point you to them momentarily. But what he says about leaders in business is also true of leaders in faith-based and nonprofit organizations.
In explaining why leaders struggle to be courageous, George says it’s often a case of ego-driven decision making: “They avoid making risky decisions that may make them look bad in the eyes of peers and external critics. Often, they eschew major decisions because they fear failure.”
Of course, those are hazards in any leadership position, including parenting.
George even confesses to his own moment as a CEO when he should have exhibited courage but blinked instead. He admits that his lack of courage took years for his company to overcome.
“Courageous leaders lead with principles – their True North – that guide them when pressure mounts. They don’t shirk bold actions because they fear failure. They don’t need external adulation, nor do they shrink from facing criticism,” he says.
That’s also true of leaders in every other context.
George doesn’t mention it, but we think leaders who base their self-regard on God’s unconditional love for them rather than on peer approval or pubic acclaim have an easier time avoiding the common ego-driven pitfalls of leadership.
We believe that these are leaders who, as George says, “lead with principles” and are less likely to become prey to fear.
Think about it. Pray about it. Ask God to help you be courageous in all of your leadership moments.
Read more about what George has to say about specific business leaders, including himself