I have become very mindful of my growth as a leader. I run an academic library. I have been given additional, interesting administrative experiences at my college. Incredibly, there are people who trust me and seek my opinion. It is all very humbling and makes me grateful for the generosity of the excellent people who have mentored me over the past 20 years.
I am thinking of the high school teacher who encouraged me to pursue my weird passion for learning new things and to share that weird passion with others.
I am thinking of the boss at my first job who didn’t berate me when I made a huge mistake and, instead, helped me work out my own plan for correcting and preventing such mistakes in the future.
I am thinking of the college administrator who let me dream big and fail big, testing and discovering the limits of personal ambition.
I am thinking of the colleague who constantly encourages me to look forward, move forward and engage with change in a positive, proactive way. That is the only way we can shape the future.
All of these people have, in their own unique way, taught me one valuable lesson: leadership is about courage — having courage and lending courage.
Every team has a leader. Sometimes that person is officially paid to be the boss. Sometimes that person is the leader by default. I have worked both ways. In either case, there is always a leader and the members of the team look to that leader for confidence. A leader demonstrates confidence by clarity of vision, simplifying complexity and acting with consistency in changing circumstances. A leader acts with confidence and models courage. This is essential but also pretty basic.
As a leader grows, he or she is able to not only have courage but lend courage to others. Courage to try something new. Courage to sit with a problem and figure things out. Courage to voice unpopular opinions. Courage to accept responsibility. Courage to fail.
Nothing useful happens on a team that has no courage. No matter how much intelligence, experience, and vision is tied up in a team, nothing worthwhile happens without courage.
This is the lesson I work with everyday. I work to keep myself mindful and worthy of the example of those who have invested their trust and confidence in me. I struggle. I fail. I disappoint. I hope I also give courage where courage is needed.
The world is a difficult place. Everything is in flux. Nothing stays still. A leader’s job is to keep everyone moving bravely forward. We can accomplish nothing when locked up in fear. There is an openness and a lightness that comes when working with courage. When that courage is shared, there are no limits on what can be accomplished.