Monday, August 1, 2011

Leadership Courage

I found a great quote today. "With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity." Keshavan Nair. I have to say I love this quote because it is the opposite of the way we usually think and talk about courage.

Courage is a big, blustery thing. Courage helps us stand up to the bullies of life. Heros have courage, not ordinary people. Courage is what is needed to do really Big Things like rescue a person in distress or save the corporation from bankruptcy. Courage is about leaping tall buildings and running faster than speeding bullets. Courage is what Leaders have - definitely with a capital L.

In my opinion those ideas about leadership are linked to the idea of Leadership as something that only special people can achieve, Leadership as ordained or only belonging to a special group of people, to the ones with the special titles.

But Nair’s quote points us in another direction. Look at all the words in this quote. Dare to risk, that sounds like the big blustery idea of courage and our traditional ideas of leadership. Strength and wisdom are words we use to describe leaders, but compassion and humility? Not the traditional words. Add them all together and the concept of courage becomes a little less blustery, but a great deal richer. Courage doesn’t take us over the tall buildings, but into conversation with others in a way that teaches us empathy and compassion. Courage may help us risk being humble enough to ask a question or let another lead rather than trusting only ourselves to complete the task.

Compassion and humility, in my opinion these are critical to effective leadership and Keshavan Nair reminds us that they are not easily lived, that it takes courage.

What other non-traditional traits or behaviors do you believe are essential for leaders? Where do you need courage to be the most effective leader possible? I hope you’ll share your answers with me.

Best wishes,


*Keshavan Nair was born in Patalia, India, and as a young man began his study of Gandhi. Educated in the British and American systems, Nair had a background in Eastern philosophy and religion, engineering, and decision and risk analysis. He was a corporate executive and served on the faculties of Ohio State University and the Indian Institute of Technology in Kampur, India. Nair passed away in 2002