On October 29, 1941, as the world reeled from the onslaught of the Nazi regime in Europe and faced a looming threat from Japan, Winston Churchill was asked to speak at Harrow, his old school. Near the end of his two-page speech, Churchill spoke the now famous words:
Never give in, never give in, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Churchill had experienced many crushing setbacks throughout his life and political career, yet he refused to give up. He was a man of extreme courage and endurance.
When leaders make decisions, seek to expand an organization’s borders, or want to execute an innovative idea or create change, they will encounter opposition and face the great temptation to conform or quit. How can they resist and stand strong? How can they acquire the bulldog will of a Winston Churchill and never give up?
“Holding the hill” when under fire can be a terrifying and lonely experience. A leader will face a long list of challenges, which, if not faced and disarmed, can turn the most competent person into a faltering coward. I have grouped these pitfalls to courage into two categories: doubt and avoidance.
This foe of courageous leadership comes in a variety of flavors.
First, there are the personal doubts
We may doubt our abilities, our judgment, our talents, and even our faith. We look at a problem and cannot find a solution. We attempt to fix it but cannot. Doubt oozes into our minds, and we are frozen into inactivity.
Then there are the doubts about our teams or others we depend upon
Have you ever worked with people who are overwhelmed, stressed out, resistant to change, burned out, not working together, complainers, rumor spreaders, backstabbers, non-communicators, whiners, stubborn hardheads, blamers, or unmotivated negative thinkers? When encountering such bad attitudes and behaviors that stall the progress of our teams, we are tempted to slide into despair, and our backbones turn to mush.
Next is doubt in the organization
We may see the company sliding down a hill to mediocre performance, abandoning the right values and a vibrant vision. It’s one thing to maintain your own personal courage in the place where you have influence. But it’s overwhelming to stand strong when the larger organization is waffling on its mission and embracing plans that seem doomed in the face of aggressive market competition. Your knees start to knock.
To endure as a leader, you will have to disarm doubt with gritty courage.