“We, the business leaders, need to invest in the growth of our businesses without waiting for more certainty. It’s on us.”

I have paraphrased a bit, but those words from Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE inspired me last week. It’s an important moment when an influential executive calls on his peers to stop using the “politics of uncertainty” to justify sitting on piles of cash when we have so many problems to solve and opportunities to innovate. It’s high time for more courageous leadership.

Fear is on the loose. My friend Jim Selman gave me an acronym last week for F.E.A.R — Future Events Appearing Real. When we let our vision of the future get hijacked by imagined scenes of calamity, we stop taking risks. Even worse we create self-doubt in those who look to us for leadership. Soon everyone is in a self-induced paralysis.

Courageous leadership displaces fear.

Courage is not about denying fear. Fear only becomes stronger if you try to deny it. Courage is moving forward into uncertainty in spite of your fears. Courage means trusting your own resourcefulness and ability to navigate whatever unforeseen obstacles show up in your path. Courageous leadership comes from the heart. Taking action based on your commitments rather than your worries.

In my work as an executive coach and as an entrepreneur launching seven different companies, I have observed courageous leadership close up.

Seven Practices of Courageous Leaders.

  1. They operate at a higher level of “sensing” and alertness than most. They pay full attention to constantly changing circumstances, the nuances of conversations and subtle clues in the behavior of others. They let go of the past and keep moving forward in the present. For them the future unfolds from today’s action; not as a product of long-term plans.
  1. They adapt quickly to surprises. Like the best NFL quarterbacks, they call “audibles” and change the play in real time. This engenders huge confidence on their team. They know they can handle whatever shows up.
  1. They are deeply connected to their inner voice. They balance out the impact of “market polling”. They go against the grain, break the rules, and disrupt the status quo. They create while others imitate.
  1. They relate to fear as a companion, not a dictator. They accept that fear comes automatically with freedom. They understand that too much emphasis on security can create its own prison. They use fear as a wake-up call not as a reason to shut down.
  1. They develop a higher tolerance for insecurity; a physical capacity to deal with the uncomfortable feelings that fear and uncertainty produce. They master practices for remaining calm and centered when others panic.
  1. They are comfortable with making mistakes. Lots of them. They learn quickly and don’t repeat the same mistake twice. They teach others that making and learning from mistakes are how you develop backbone.
  1. They have a “love affair with life”. They make choices every day that bring them more fully alive. Their exuberant living leads to courageous leadership. They “lift all boats” with their buoyant spirit.


Take a good look in the mirror.

Do you feed courage and diminish fear and doubt wherever you go?

What are your own practices for courageous leadership?

As Jeffrey Immelt said, “now, it’s on us”.