I’m going to start this blog with a breakthrough revelation: Good leadership requires courage.
O.K. Maybe I exaggerated. This is probably not a revelation. You probably already knew this. In fact, you probably just went, “Well, Duh!”
And yet, we tend to take the value of courageous leadership for granted, don’t we? I mean, we believe it just comes with the territory and we just assume that leaders should be naturally brave, bold, and courageous. But most are not. This is why courageous leadership leaves its mark on history. These are the types of leaders who rose up when resources were scarce and did something about it. They are remembered because through lack of resources they have shown remarkable resourcefulness. In other words, they beat the odds by braving the storm; they were courageous. Their names adorn the halls of our public buildings, their statues edify our parks, and their memorials are found in our streets and squares.
These days, I am reminded of the value of courage every time I open the TV set. The winter Olympics have captured the attention of the world, as is the case for most Olympic games. Many of us set our gaze in the direction of these brave athletes who have but one brief moment to reach their goal – to go for the gold.
As entrepreneurs, we are often reminded that failure is part of success. We are often told that it’s OK to fail. And we often do. In fact, stats show that most entrepreneurs succeed once in every eight failures. That’s just part of the game in business. Not so at the Olympics. These athletes have this unique chance once every four years. If they fail here and now, they can always hope to get another chance in four years – if they qualify. Now THAT’S pressure!
As we intently stare at our TV screen, we see the athletes go through the thrill of victory, the pain of defeat, and the agony of under-performance. No matter what country they hail from, I always feel sad for athletes when they fall, stumble, or fumble. It’s one thing to lose, but quite another to do so knowing you weren’t able to perform at your peak.
Another thing I have found in those winter Olympics is just how courageous they have to be to practice some of those sports. I cringe every time I see how hard it must be on the knees for practitioners of ski moguls – Ouch! But that’s nothing in comparison to the breakneck speed of luge and bobsleigh where they reach in excess of 100 km/h on ice corridors. You probably remember the fatal luge accident which took the life of Nodar Kumaritashvili, in the 2010 winter Olympics. And let’s not forget snowboard and ski acrobatics – Yikes!!! Yes, the winter Olympics are not for the faint of heart, especially if you’re participating.
The Olympics remind us that courage is admired, revered, and always remembered. Courageous men and women still inspire us centuries after their passing. I surmise that they would do so even if they lacked most other qualities. But remove courage from their character, and they would be nothing but a distant and frail memory. They would be forgotten. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
In a teaching on the virtues of courage, John C. Maxwell listed seven benefits of courage. They are the following:
1. Courage enables you to maximize the potential in yourself and others.
This is observable in life, and in the Olympics. Athletes who demonstrate courage encourage others through their example. The athlete who is up after one who just broke a world record has to options: get discouraged by thinking that he won’t beat his predecessor, or be encouraged by believing it is achievable. After all, he just witnessed it.
2. Courage sustains you to live a life of few regrets.
We will oftentimes see athletes who don’t win a medal be very happy with their performance nonetheless. When interviewed, these athletes will say they are happy with their performance because it is their personal best, of they gave it their all. Going all in is a source of great satisfaction for Olympians, regardless if they win a medal. The same goes for everyone in life.
3. Courage allows you to climb as you step the ladder of life. “Courage, like muscle, is strengthened by use.”
When a young 17 or 18 year old participates in his first Olympics, he is just happy to be there, surrounded by the best in the world. Even when they finish 9th, 11th, or 15th, they are happy if they gave it their all. They remain hopeful because they know their career is just taking off. They believe they have just begun their ascension and haven’t reached their peak yet. They know they can still improve. They see long term. Life is like that; and courage allows us to keep hoping and working towards more as we bravely muscle through.
4. Courage encourages you during difficult and uncertain times. “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” — Special Olympic Prayer
Yes, there will be difficult times, failures, and heartaches. This goes for sports and life alike. In those difficult moments, courage defines us. Courage is what will make you power-on through when you finish 12th instead of 2nd as predicted. Courage is what will make you encourage yourself when you lost and got the wind knocked out of you. The word encourage mean ‘to put courage in.’ So, encouraging yourself mean to put courage in yourself. I like this saying: “The test of courage is this: How much is left in you after you’ve lost everything outside of you.”
5. Courage propels you to reinvent yourself as often as needed.
So many tweaks, adjustments, and re-adjustments are needed for an Olympian to reach the podium. They often need to adapt their style to the terrain, circumstances, and opponents they face. They have to constantly be willing to change, correct themselves, and show flexibility. That’s how winning is done. Their coaches are always on the lookout for changes and improvements on their behalf. It takes courage to always be willing to reinvent yourself – as often as needed. Bruce Lee said it best when he encouraged us to ‘Be like water.’ Nothing is more adaptable than water. It can flow, drip, crash, fill, etc. Be like water my friends.
6. Courage sustains you to hold on long enough to win.
“George Patton said, “Courage is holding on a minute longer.”
When every muscle, tendon, and sinew feels like giving up, an Olympic champion will say,“No. Don’t give up. Hold on just one more minute. You can do this!” Holding on for that one extra minute is what separates the winners from the losers, the champions from the talented, and the eminent from the average. It’s what enables people to grow from failure to victory.
7. Courage advances your voice.
People always remember brave Olympians. When a man or woman has demonstrated incredible courage in front of seemingly overwhelming odds, we can’t help but admire them and remember how they inspired us to show the same resolve. When my wife asked me this week what Olympic athletes do after their sports career is over, I answered that medal winners can often go for a career as analyst on TV, a motivational speaking career, or perhaps write a book. It really does ‘advance their voice’; literally in some cases. People will always lend an ear to those they respect. Courage will often earn you respect and therefore enable you to be heard. On the other hand, those who don’t attain glorious heights have to reinvent themselves and find a new career path.
Courage is indeed, an essential to good leadership. Nobody wants to follow a coward. And the Olympics serve to remind us of what courage is made of. So, here is my tip of the hat to all of those athletes whose hard word, determination, and yes, courage, show us what “No Guts, No Glory” really means. And remember that the lessons they weave by their exploits are lessons that we too, mere mortals, can apply to our lives as we go for the gold in our own respective disciplines in business and in life.
Be brave, be bold, and go for the gold! If you can’t be an Olympian, be like the apostle Paul who said:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day.” (2 Timothy 7-8a)