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Leadership Traits – Courage
By Gerald Gillis

I have identified my twelve leadership traits as: Ability to Communicate; Courage; Integrity; Discipline; Fairness; Unselfishness; Dependability; Vision; Assertiveness; Professional Competence; Judgment; and Creativity.

Aristotle called courage the first virtue, because it makes all of the other virtues possible, including the above traits. I believe it to be the most important virtue in the business world, as well. Without courage, there is no effective leadership at any level. Without courage, there is no breakthrough innovation or radical transformation. Without courage, there is no resistance to the blurring of the ethical and unethical. The absence of courage will very likely place an organization on a quick pathway to oblivion when business conditions inevitably turn difficult.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines courage as, “Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Let’s use the preceding as our basis for this discussion.

If someone were to describe you as a courageous leader, what exactly would they be talking about? What actions or impressions would you have demonstrated to them to cause such a characterization?

For starters, I would offer the following:

  • You took risks that others would have avoided. Perhaps a decision on a new product or service? Or an acquisition or merger? Or a change is business strategy? You stepped out of your comfort zone, took full responsibility, and made something happen.
  • You accepted conflict as a natural business occurrence, and you dealt with it forthrightly, candidly, and honestly. You didn’t run and hide and thus exacerbate the problem. You didn’t let the conflict simmer and boil over. And in the end, you made a decision, however difficult.

  • You constantly challenged the status quo. You kept asking Why? when others seemed perfectly content. You created a healthy tension to become more productive or more innovative or more forward-looking. You created a culture of excellence, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace change.

  • You didn’t suffer from the cowardice of silence. You spoke up when others dared not. You raised difficult issues. You disagreed when you felt you were right. You provided tough guidance and counsel when necessary. You provided honest feedback.

  • You developed people and then entrusted them to do their jobs. You empowered others and accepted responsibility when they tripped. You gave credit when deserved. You praised in public and corrected in private.

Everyone has the capacity to be courageous. It is a teachable skill, and as such is made better with practice and coaching. You too can be a courageous leader. Be under no illusion, however, for leadership courage is often a lonely, gut-wrenching, nail-biting experience. It’s not always popular, and you will never always be right. Just understand that it’s all part of the package.

Still want to be a leader?

Of course you do. And good luck!

Gerald Gillis is the author of the award-winning historical novel “Shall Never See So Much.” Gerald’s forthcoming novel, a business thriller, is due for release in the Fall, 2012. Visit his website at and his blog at

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