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Managerial courage and leading by example

Years ago, I was introduced to the term “managerial courage” in a professional development setting and it hit home like no other word or phrase I had heard at work before. It helped me articulate ways in which I wanted (needed) to be a better leader and really gave me the language to identify what I found lacking in those that were in positions of leadership around me. This trait (or lack thereof) determines the level of respect a leader can command from their team. The leader with managerial courage walks the walk and truly leads by example. Here it is laid out clearly and succinctly, as if it was a bullet point lifted right from a job description:

“Tactfully dispenses direct and actionable feedback; is open and direct with others without being intimidating; deals head-on with people problems and prickly situations”

As someone who is generally averse to conflict in all forms, this can be tough. But we all know that when we ignore problems, they don’t go away. They get bigger. And then there is the collateral – in the form of disgruntled employees and those that choose to leave instead of staying and dealing with an unhealthy workplace or culture.

Through both personal experience and my work with other nonprofit organizations, I have narrowed down the traits that when present in a leader, define someone with true managerial courage:

  • Has tough conversations, says what needs to be said in a tactful way

  • Holds others accountable swiftly, but starts by holding themselves accountable

  • Deals head on with difficult situations

  • Commands presence without intimidating

  • Knows how to communicate the negative as well as the positive

  • Has an awareness of their own limitations and participates in ongoing professional development

  • Takes feedback, listens to their leadership team (who were presumably hired because they are competent and maybe even the experts on a topic in the organization)

  • Open to change, recognizes when a shift needs to happen and guides the team towards next steps (familiarity and comfort with change management theory or recruits assistance)

  • Comfortable with being vulnerable

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