Finding the Courage to Lead: What Does It Take to be a Great Leader?
11 February 2022
‘Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore’. Andre Gide
Countless studies have focussed on identifying the key attributes required to be an effective leader. Some of these include honesty, confidence, trust, resilience, vision, influence and empathy. For me, the most important leadership attribute is courage. Courage is the willingness to put others before self, challenge the status quo, have a bold vision, be prepared to take risks and not be afraid of failure. Or, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.’
Jacinda Arden, New Zealand’s youngest female prime minister, is a standout example of courageous leadership. Named as one of the most influential people by Time magazine in 2019, Ardern leads with compassion, kindness and humility. She has been lauded for her unconventional actions such as attending the United Nations General Assembly with an infant and wearing a hijab to respect those impacted by the Christchurch shooting.
Ardern’s ability to make bold decisions and communicating them with conviction is a masterclass in crisis leadership. New Zealand was one of the few western countries that adopted an elimination strategy to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst the strict lockdown directed by the prime minister was positively received by the public at large, it also attracted criticism due to its adverse impact on New Zealand’s economy. Despite knowing that a harsh lockdown could be a politically unpopular decision, she decided to put New Zealand’s public health and safety ahead of all other concerns.
Daniel Fynn, Managing Director and Co-founder of Thankyou Group, a social enterprise, is another exemplar in leading with courage. Named as 2014 Victorian Young Australian of the Year, Fynn believes ‘impossibility is someone’s opinion, not a fact’. In February 2016, he launched his best-selling book, Chapter One, using a ‘pay-what-you-want’ model to fund the future of the Thankyou Group. Launching a book with no price tag with a view to raising $1.2 million was a daring endeavour which paid off well. In 2020, Fynn took yet another extraordinary step in changing the direction of his company by abandoning Thankyou’s flagship product. Giving up what had made Thankyou a household name in Australia sounds counterintuitive, but Fynn chose to make this hard decision to put the interests of others before self. What this demonstrates is that Fynn displayed great moral courage by admitting that it was a naïve decision to sell bottled water as it created an environmental problem to solve a social issue.
As an educator, I believe it is important students develop an understanding of the meaning of courage. As one of Westbourne’s core values, courage means, amongst other things, knowing that, in the words of Winston Churchill, ‘success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ Whilst some people are born to be courageous, it is a disposition that can be developed through experiences and our interaction with other people. With our vision to ‘shape learners who inspire the world’, one of our aims is to develop in our students the ability to question without fear. We want them to be prepared for the things that will come their way in life and to have the wherewithal to know how to consider various alternatives and options. We also want them to develop the capacity to not only accept failure and to keep going, but to exhibit the courage to listen and to speak when required, while developing the capacity to accept failure and to keep going.