Courage: The First and Most Essential Skill

Courage is the first of human qualities because it’s the quality which guarantees the others.



A lot of people believe that courage is something that you’re born with. And yes, there are some people who are born braver than others, but the majority of us have to learn—and build—courage as we go along.

Aristotle said that “courage is the first of human qualities.” I agree. And I believe that courage is among the most essential skills of a good leader.

Courage shows up for all of us in a number of ways. First, it takes courage to take initiative. And taking initiative involves risk. As an employee, taking initiative, working on something beyond the scope of a job description, proposing a new direction, a new idea, or a new intervention means that they are risking failure—risking owning an idea that may not work.

Another way courage shows up is in speaking up. Speaking “truth to power” can rattle a supervisor or disrupt the flow of a project trajectory. But speaking up is absolutely critical to making a difference and creating change and growth.

Courage also shows up as letting go of the need to control outcomes. This is a tough one for many people. In leadership, letting go means trusting the collective brain of your team.

So how do you “learn” courage? You learn it by practicing 1) taking initiative, 2) speaking up, and 3) letting go of the need to control. And as a leader, you lead it by creating an environment where  the people you hire can develop a courageous spirit.

Without courage, learning cannot happen. Atrophy sets in and strength withers.

The best employees are those who are willing to stretch their skills—to learn something they do not know, to ask questions and to try a new idea. These are the attributes I look for in a leader, these are the characteristics or the DNA we seek to develop through our Leadership Academy and these are the attributes we encourage throughout our organization.

I am curious: how do you build your courage “muscles?” And, as a leader, how do you encourage it in those you lead?