It's come to my realization that there is a massive difference between what we know about leadership versus what we do as leaders. In Peter Bregman's article, "Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail," I've learned that leadership is about knowing what to say or do. It's about whether or not we're willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it.
This reminded me of the story, The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. I heard this story several times in my youth, but the child who yelled out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" as the Emperor paraded before his subjects in his "new" clothes came to my mind because he was too young to understand the allure of keeping up the falsity.
There's a lot we can learn from kids! This kid had emotional courage. According to Bregman:
Emotional courage means standing apart from others without separating yourself from them. It means speaking up when others are silent. And remaining steadfast, grounded, and measured in the face of uncertainty. It means responding productively to political opposition — maybe even bad-faith backstabbing — without getting sidetracked, distracted, or losing your focus. And staying in the discomfort of a colleague's anger without shutting off or becoming defensive.
I believe emotional courage is what distinguishes powerful leaders from weak ones or people with personal power versus positional power. How many times have you been in a meeting where no one has the courage to mention the elephant in the room?
It's you're turn to bring it up. It's a rush! Experiencing that kind of discomfort is truly exhilarating. At first it's hard, but with enough experience it becomes easier. Take the opportunity the next chance you get. It may be risky, but it's riskier standing by and being weak.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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