Bravery and courage are central themes in so many books and films we have grown up with. The lion in The Wizard of Oz follows the yellow brick road in search of it, Shakespeare’s Hamlet calls on it to avenge his father’s murder and Jo March, in Little Women, bravely fights gender stereotyping to make her own way in life.
Leadership has always been associated with bravery but never more than now. As we enter the next stage of this new world, the pressure is on the maintain high performance, often in the face of significant challenge, profit and income shortfalls (unless you are running Zoom or Amazon) and uncertainty about the future. So maybe now is the time to think about what being brave really means in your role and how it may be different from relying on bravado.
First some differentiating definitions:
Bravery is defined as courageous behaviour and character, whereas bravado is described as a bold manner intended to impress or intimidate.
You can see the problem here. Bravery is all about substance. It inspires belief and trust in leaders. Bravado may be motivating and exciting at first but lacks weight if not followed up with evidence, action and consistency from those who employ it. As the quote says – we need a backbone, not a wishbone.
So, when the pressure is on and whether you lead an organisation, section, team or project, how do you remain brave and avoid the bravado trap? Here are 3 ways.
- Brave leaders have the courage to open themselves up to feedback, welcome it and use it positively. Acting with bravado on the other hand can make you sound overconfident, even arrogant. And it closes you off to feedback. Sometimes we hide behind bravado when we are afraid of what we’ll hear if we seek feedback. Don’t be. If you go out to people with a well thought out argument and can back up your reasons, any feedback you seek will acknowledge that you have thought things through and may add a useful dimension to your proposal. Better that they say it to you than about you.
- Share what you know. Brave leaders are generous with their experiences and don’t withhold information without good reason. The bravado brigade often chooses to stay quiet, fob you off and withhold information which only breeds a culture of suspicion and scepticism. It is true sometimes you need to access bravery when you don’t feel brave, to straighten up in front to people and communicate with conviction. No one wants to see their leader unravel in front of them. But that shouldn’t stop you communicating concerns and collaborating with others to solve problems. Bravery, like resilience, doesn’t have to be a lone sport. Sharing what you know will grow the team’s skills and abilities and encourage bravery in them too.
- Embrace diverse thinking. This means being brave enough to surround yourself with people who don’t think like you do and will challenge existing ways of working to drive change for the better. Leaders who prefer bravado often surround themselves with yes people – those who think in the same way or at least won’t challenge them. This might be an energy saver and feel good at times, but in the long run is not a good thing. Research tells us that diverse teams are more likely to be high performing. So have the courage to welcome a range of views and approaches.
We aren’t born brave – or maybe we are and life bashes it out of us. Either way, being brave is a choice. It’s scary at times, requires energy and time and you feel the weight of responsibility to lead people relying on you to set the direction. But it is rewarding too and what we need from our leaders right now. Anyway, what’s the alternative – fake it till you make it? You may not make it.