It begins the moment we take our first breath. We are confronted with new challenges all throughout our lives. But through courage and determination these stumbling blocks can become stepping stepping stones.
In 2017 I met Connie Nichols. From the moment I met her I knew she was a true voice of courage and determination. I will never forget meeting her on a cold and wet December day in 2017. We had planned to discuss business but our conversation quickly shifted to her sharing a powerful story of courage with me.
In 2008, Connie had moved from Chicago to Waco with her four year-old son, Caden. She was in a new town, making new friends and embracing her new job as a law professor at Baylor University when Connie learned she had breast cancer.
She immediately set herself in motion to tackle cancer calling on her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry to partner with her oncologist in creating her treatment plan.
She told me she took on her diagnosis as something that was going to strengthen her to be a better person. I will never forget her saying to me “At first I was thinking, ‘Why me?’ Then the white glove came on and I thought, ‘Why not me?’
As a child, she had a actually dreamt of becoming a biologist who would find a cure for cancer but never dreamed she would pursue her original dream in such a personal way while her tenacity would also inspire her students at Baylor Law School, even though it wasn’t a lesson she was intending to teach them.
Graduating students evaluate their professors. She had no idea what an impact her courage and determination was having on her students. She set that example by being there every day through her chemotherapy treatment. It was not until she read through the comments where so many expressed one of the greatest lessons so many learned was how you can overcome anything when you face it with courage and grace.
That knowledge is what changed Connie’s perspective and approach to setting priorities in her own circumstance.
Finding Your Courage
“Courage, not complacency, is our need today.” John F. Kennedy
What is courage? Most definitions are variations of the one in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which states that courage is, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.”
All leaders need courage. Courage is having the strength of character to persist regardless of the situation or the circumstance. A leader is never afraid of scars. Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.
A courageous leader is confident, bold, persistent, determined, exhibits initiative and has a backbone. They know how to balance each of these traits so that none becomes a problem rather than an admirable quality.
Economic upheaval and ownership changes can instill fear in the workplace. A courageous leader is the face that can set the tone for employees who are feeling uncertain and may worry about layoffs and reassignments.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the acquired ability to move beyond fear. Looking beyond the obstacles that hold us back to the reward on the other side can be the difference between who you are and who you want to be. Leaders don’t wait for things to happen; they make things happen.
A courageous leader just means they have the ability to conquer fear or be stronger than the choice to be afraid. This leader will step forward even if it would be easier to duck and cover. These moments can be game-changers for an organization. Fear never fosters confidence; courage always does.
It takes courage to step outside the comfort zone into a risk zone and do what you might not feel like doing. Courage is certainly a centerpiece of leadership, and a critical component of success. It is a platform or foundation on which other facets of leadership are built.
We learn from leaders that courage gives them the will and passion to face obstacles that seem incredibly daunting. In the process of facing down their own fears, leaders are inspiring those around them not to give up.
Many times mentors don’t even know they are inspiring other people. Some of the greatest mentors in my life had no idea they had that impact on me. It’s a complete 360 because we could actually be doing the same thing for others.
In addition to inspiring others by their strong example, an effective leader will also have the courage to welcome feedback and address issues that could undermine the entire team.
Sometimes all you need is a few seconds of insane courage for something great to come. Anything amazing that has been invented, created or sought after has come at great risk to someone. Courage presents confidence by being decisive and forward-thinking. It does not stay stuck in place waiting for something to happen or someone else to do something.
That risk could be humiliation, failure, criticism and ridicule. It could be financial, personal or professional. However, a leader recognizes the risks and is willing to be courageous when the outcome is worth it. Courage is vulnerability.
My behavior pattern identifies me as an influencer. The biggest fear of people with this pattern is the loss of relationship. This mirrored fears of rejection in my personal life. Therefore, even though I have always had a passion to help people, I was crippled by the need to be liked by everyone. This was a challenge when a professional association asked me to share my company’s successes through the incentive programs I had created.
However, I knew to be a true leader I must be well-rounded and had an obligation to share our story with as many people as I could. I wanted to see others experience the same success.
After I faced my fear and shared my story, it opened many more doors than I could have ever imaged. After speaking to thousands of professionals around the country, I released my book on leadership and was even invited to Asia to share my message with professionals in an entirely different culture.
We will all be faced with moments and decision that require courage. When we risk wisely and leap boldly, the rewards are worth it. I took another leap to change my career path into real estate because I have a passion for helping others make their dreams come true.
I once heard a great quote from a speaker named Travis Alexander. He said, “The difference between a stumbling block and stepping stone is the character of the individual walking the path.” To me, this lesson reminds us all that rejection can actually provide an opportunity for us to grow.
I stepped out on a new path to learn, grow and find my way to reach a determined goal. That challenge has been worth the risks as the reward is connecting with others who have faced their fears. Study great leaders throughout history and a common thread is that they have faced a tough situation or crisis with courage. That defining moment pushed them toward their next level leadership where they had their greatest impact.
When we think of those on the Titanic, we see examples of both courage and fear. Many people stepped up and helped to save others even at the risk of their own life. Some were gripped with fear and pushed someone aside to secure safety for themselves. Still others knew that their steady calmness would influence others not to panic and give them a greater chance for survival.
Rarely are the situations we face as leaders as extreme as that of a ship that is literally sinking, but it can often feel that way. We feel responsible for the well-being and success of those who are relying on us to be good leaders. We may even think about how to weather the storm ourselves despite the fallout.
Courage in its truest form has a ripple effect that surpasses the current challenge and emanates beyond ourselves to influence others in their leadership journey.
When we embrace courage, we grow. We flex our leadership muscles by being decisive, strong and determined.