Many vivid situations and individuals come to mind when I think about courageous leadership.
Courageous leaders are able to see how much better a company, organization, or circumstance can be when a change is proposed. They never pretend to know everything. Instead, they seek input from all constituents and make sure they understand the reasons behind anyone’s concerns. These leaders realize that they may have blind spots, which is why they value the opinions of others when trying to accomplish a successful mission, project, or goal.
Courageous leaders also are comfortable with pushback because they consider it just another path to achieving a better outcome. If performance issues among employees exist, a good leader will address them, even if the easier path might be to ignore the problems. Similarly, these leaders face reality head-on and cut through any politics. Yet, when necessary, they know how to gracefully navigate political power plays and dissenting opinions. They possess a true-north compass as to what’s waiting on the other side: a better company, organization, or community.
I’ve been lucky to have known some great courageous leaders. My first experience with watching an amazing leader drive change was Tim Solso, who became CEO of Cummins shortly after I joined the company. Cummins was going through a very defining moment at the time, and Tim insisted we add Six Sigma to our initiatives. He also wanted to ensure accountability and reward those who made significant contributions to our results, so bonuses were provided to the Black Belts early in the Six Sigma program for those who led change within the organization. (Tim continued his emphasis on change when he became board chair at General Motors in 2014. He currently sits on the board of GM, which has the first female CEO and CFO team among Big Three automakers.)
Tim also was the first CEO to add a female CFO to Cummins: Jean Blackwell. Tim saw in Jean what our company needed as we managed through some challenging times. Jean was another great leader who always took time to mentor me early in my Cummins career. She helped guide my search for future roles within the company when she recommended individuals for me to contact as I began planning my next career move.
We truly see what our leaders are made of when they face difficult or challenging situations. Reflecting on my years at Cummins, I’ve learned that often when you must contend with some of the toughest times, there are better times ahead when you get to the other side. And another thing: Courageous leaders never focus on themselves but on the greater good of the entire organization, company, or community. That’s why they’re worth following.
If you would like to cultivate your own leadership skills, please explore some of the resources available through the IMA Leadership Academy at http://bit.ly/2DspBLO.
Who has been a courageous leader in your life? I’d like to hear your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.