4 Characteristics of A Courageous Leader

January 20th, 2013 by LaRae Quy

Perhaps Lance Armstrong didn’t have the grit to be a courageous leader. Maybe this explains his need to be a superhero—with the aid of illegal dope.

Whatever you may think of Lance Armstrong and his recent admission during an Oprah Winfrey show to doping, he showed a shocking lack of courage to be his own man when he began taking dope to help him win races beginning in the mid-90’s. Armstrong forgot an essential element of creation: life requires courage. Because of people like Lance Armstrong, we tend to lose sight of the vital meaning, power, and importance of courage.

I’m not talking about the physical courage of a soldier or superhero—I mean the mental toughness demanded of each of us every day. Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm (click to tweet). It’s the resolve to meet life’s scary circumstances head on with confidence and determination.

Even more surprising is that Armstrong possessed the courage to confront a difficult, frightening, and painful, situation in his past. His scare with cancer in 1997 is a testimony of that courage, but somewhere he lost the answer this question: Can we find the courage to face-to-face with our fear and defeat it, or will we be destroyed by it?

I did not learn to be courageous solely by being an FBI agent for 24 years. There were many situations in my personal, social, and professional life where I felt threatened, weak, vulnerable or intimidated. I needed the mental toughness demanded of us each and every day.

In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I discuss how to be courageous by confronting the challenges that push us to the limit.

Here are four characteristics we all need to develop the courage to lead our life with a strong mind:

1. Recognize Your Moral and Spiritual Core

Moral courage motivates us to do the right thing, to right a wrong, to take a stand for a deeply held principle or spiritual value despite adversity or going against popular culture. One of my favorite examples comes from the Bible—Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he is arrested. How easy it would have been for him to run! And it crossed Jesus’s mind when he whispered, “If possible, let this cup pass from me.” But he did not. Jesus had the moral and spiritual courage to face his opponents even though it lead to his crucifixion.

Standing up to evil and fighting for what we truly believe takes courage. Sometimes it takes more courage to acknowledge our weaknesses and fears than to hide behind macho bravado or religious pretensions.

“Last, but by no means least, [we need] courage—moral courage, the courage of one’s convictions, the courage to see things through. The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It’s the age-old struggle—the roar of the crowd on one side and the voice of your conscience on the other.”

—Douglas MacArthur

2. Be A Courageous Leader And Move Toward Your Fear

Courage is not the absence of fear, but moving ahead despite fear (click to tweet). If there is no fear, who needs courage?

One of my favorite movies is the Wizard of Oz. The cowardly lion takes a bold and decisive step when he seeks to find the great and powerful wizard. As the movie progresses, we realize how much courage it took for the cowardly lion to begin his quest! The ability to face, accept, and fight to become oneself in the world is a tremendous act of boldness.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

3. Follow Your Heart

It takes courage to suffer the sharp pains of self-awareness rather than follow the dull pain of unconsciousness that keeps us blinded the rest of our lives. Following our heart leads to a passion that allows us to do extraordinary things, to discover, to challenge ourselves. Passion is and always should be the heart of courage.

The word courage comes from the French root word “cour,” which means heart. So courage is closely aligned with the heart—that vital muscle that keeps our blood flowing and sustains life. Our heart represents our innermost feelings and spiritual core.

“All dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.”

—T.E. Lawrence

4. Embrace the Adventure in Your Life

Our world demands many of the qualities of youth—not a phase of life but a state of mind. A type of thinking that still values imagination and the predominance of courage over timidity. In other words, the appetite for adventure is more important than the life of easy comfort.

The call to adventure comes through an inner voice that beckons you to move beyond the ordinary. You have the ability to hear your inner voice calling you to explore new frontiers of your life if you will listen for it. The call will be different for everyone but that is what makes each of us unique.

Answering the call to explore your own life is the day in which you decide to take leadership of it. A strong mind needs no apologies or excuses. You empower yourself, so there is no one to lean on, rely on, or blame. Life is an amazing journey—and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. It is not an obligation; it is an adventure.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

— Anais Nin

Being a courageous leader is a choice. It is having the mental toughness to stand up to the adversity that life throws at us. Even the cowardly lion knew to look for courage within himself; if only Lance Armstrong had been that brave.

How have you found the courage to move on? When has it taken more courage for you to stay put? How have you found faith in yourself to be brave?


© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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2 Responses to “4 Characteristics of A Courageous Leader”

  1. Kenneth DeBacker says:

    Two words: Cancer survivor.

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