Sir Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” Think about that for a minute. Fear is what happens when there’s a perceived threat of some sort. It triggers the fight or flight reaction. Courage is the decision to face the fear and act with control and intent. If courage is a decision, then it seems reasonable that courage is supported by a set of skills. That’s what this blog will explore in brief: three skill sets that build courage if they are used. Read on to see how to take the gift of the Holy Spirit and strengthen it so that you bring courage to your leadership. Walt Disney said it this way, “Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised.”
The memory skill I am referring to here is akin to the same kind of memory we exercise in every Eucharist, an anamnesis that serves to bring to the present events of the past so that they are real, influential and potentially transformative today. What does this have to do with courage? Courageous people remember the times gone by when, faced with something fearful, they chose action rather than reaction. They remember their feelings and how they managed them. They remember their physical responses and how those either helped and hindered them. They remember the outcomes, what worked and what they wish they’d done. And they remember when it was over…mining the situation for its wisdom, knowledge, understanding and right judgment so that the next time, and for leaders there will always be a next call for courage, they can access all of this to strengthen their choice to be courageous. So take the time to remember past acts of personal courage. And, if those are in short supply, take a look at the lives of the Saints as well as lives of those you consider courageous. Mine their stories. Place them in your memory bank so that they become part of your courage storehouse.
A lot is being written about mindfulness these days in terms of well-being, school discipline and spirituality. It’s a popular topic because it is a powerful tool. The kind of mindfulness that build courage in leaders is tied to the memory work you do first. Specifically, courageous leaders take the time to learn how their bodies, minds and emotions react when they are fearful. Courageous leaders pay attention to the cues that signal for them a flight or fight response, so that they are aware of them and can anticipate the need to respond rather than react. Mindful leaders know how to short-circuit their personal fight or flight reaction and how to short-circuit that reaction when a team, committee or council comes face to face with fear. Mindful leaders know the difference between using their emotions to lead others and allowing their emotions to detract from the effectiveness of a meeting or the mission. Who among you hasn’t met someone so fearful of confrontation that they make cowardly decisions, over and over again? They allow wrong to go on, and morale and mission to suffer because they cannot manage their own fear of confrontation. Mindful leaders develop their self-awareness and their tools for short-circuiting fight or flight in themselves and others. This is a learned skill and one that gets stronger each time you use it. And, it builds courage because the leader knows they can navigate the emotional minefield for themselves and can assist others to do the same.
This idea of vision, visioning and the necessity for both is not new in leadership circles or the ecclesial world. Much has been said about the necessity for a vision and of the role of the leader in clarifying and communicating the vision. But how does a leader clarify and communicate a vision? With the process called vision-casting. It’s got seven steps, but before I list them for you, let me tell you how this builds courage. Every time a leader does one or more of these steps in casting the vision, the vision itself becomes more deeply embedded in the leader. The more deeply embedded the vision, the belief in it and its power to transform, the more the leader is willing to risk to see that it comes to pass. A leader who shares a vision far and wide using the steps below becomes a leader convinced that vision is critical. A leader convinced is a courageous leader.
Here are the steps in vision-casting:
- Know who you are as an individual and as a community. Identify the gifts and talents you possess to bring the vision to bear.
- Know where you are going. What are the benchmarks along the way that let you know the vision is coming to life? How will you know you’re realizing parts of the vision?
- Identify why you are heading in the direction you are envisioning. What comes to pass? Who benefits? How does this path create a people faithful to the Lord?
- Describe what it will feel like to be going toward the vision. Emotions drive behavior. Help identify the positive and negative emotions that are part of your journey toward the vision.
- Specify what you want others to do. Vision has to have steps and people to do them. Leaving the vision out there, nebulous, for others to wrestle with and figure out transmits that the leader does not know how to get started and who should do what.
- Share the overall plan. Want others to follow you? Have a roadmap and share it. It builds confidence in others and courage in yourself.
- Specify the outcomes and rewards. How will others recognize that the vision is coming to pass and who/what benefits? Outcomes and rewards support the kind of emotion that drives behavior and leaders know how to tie them together. Every time you do, it gets clearer and more compelling. And that leads to increased courage.
Each of these skills, when used by ecclesial leaders, builds courage. Yes, courage is a gift, but the gift has to be opened and developed. You now know three ways to do that. Looking for some mentoring? Someone to help you think this through within your ministerial setting? Help sharing this with other leaders in your parish? Contact us. It’s what we do!