In previous blogs (here and here), I have presented a comprehensive model of leadership that I have labeled The Performance Trilogy®. The framework describes the three fundamental processes that must be managed; strategy, execution, and leadership development and the three leadership roles needed for each process; leading, managing and coaching. Leading each of the three processes of the Performance Trilogy® requires very different attributes (i.e. talent and skills). The three most important attributes needed to successfully lead the strategy process are imagination, courage and persuasiveness. The three most important attributes needed to successfully manage the execution process are conscientiousness, productivity and discernment. The three most important attributes needed to successfully coach the leadership development process are integrity, empathy, and teaching skills. These nine attributes are universal and essential for sustainable success in any endeavor you pursue. In this blog we will explore the second of these leadership attributes required during the strategy process, courage.

Courage – The ability to act despite considerable risks

While ideas are the lifeblood of leadership, the ability to turn those ideas into results takes courage. New ideas are threatening. As Machiavelli is most often quoted as saying “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things”. How often have you heard reactions to ideas such as “that will never work”, “we’ve already tried that before and it failed”, and “we don’t have the experience”. As a result, most leaders are constantly faced with the fear of failure.

I’ve mentioned that I spend lots of time thinking of new ideas. Early in my career, however, I was extremely cautious and rarely acted on my ideas for fear of failure. The turning point for me was Tony Robbins’ concept of the power of taking action in his two books Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within. After reading his books and listening to his tapes, my awareness of the importance of taking action was significantly increased. It dawned on me that ideas were like potential energy. In and of themselves, they are powerful. But only when potential energy is converted to kinetic energy can any useful work get done. Likewise, only when ideas are acted upon, can leaders create change.

I also resonated with his comment that there is no such thing as failure, only results. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a sound concept that is to overcome the fear of failure. As an experimental scientist, I never worried about a blow to my self-esteem when one of my experiments didn’t validate my hypothesis; I just learned from it and tried a new experiment. I now treat every initiative or decision that I make in life as an experiment. I determine (not judge) its outcome and learn from it by increasing my self-awareness.

Lest I be accused of being too idealistic, I refer to courage in the Aristotelian sense “the habit of choosing the mean between the two extremes”. On one extreme is timidity or the lack of courage. When the challenge is difficult, and resistance is strong, courage is an essential attribute of leadership. The other extreme is foolhardiness or taking risks without first assessing the consequences. Courage in the Aristotelian sense is taking calculated risks.

Graffeo and Associates is an organization committed to improving the quality of leadership in science and technology (S&T). It was formed in 2008 around the expertise of Dr. Tony Graffeo, a senior executive from Arthur D. Little and Battelle Memorial Institute. Dr. Graffeo has consulted with leading research institutions in the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and has created a codified system of leadership development centered around the principles of the Performance Trilogy® which he has taught throughout the world. He is currently a professor at Northeastern University teaching Professional Masters entrepreneurship and leadership courses. His new book, titled “Leading Science & Technology-Based Organizations: Mastering the Fundamentals of Personal, Managerial, and Executive Leadership” will be published in 2018.