The critical challenge of leadership is, mostly, the challenge of emotional bravery.
Emotional bravery means setting yourself apart from others without distancing yourself from them. It means speaking up when others are silent. And remaining steadfast, grounded, and measured in the face of uncertainty. It means responding productively to political opposition — maybe even bad-faith backstabbing — without getting sidetracked, distracted, or losing your focus. And staying in the discomfort of a colleague’s anger without shutting off or becoming defensive.
These are the things that distinguish powerful leaders from ineffective ones. And you can’t learn them from reading a book, taking a personality test, or sitting safely in a classroom.
The goal of any of my leadership programs is to change behavior. After a successful program, participants should show up differently, saying and doing things in new ways that produce better results.
If the challenge of leadership is emotional bravery, then emotional bravery is what we need to teach. You can’t just learn about communication, you have to do it, in the heat of the moment, when the pressure is on, and your emotions are high.
The only way to teach bravery is to require it of people. To offer them opportunities to draw from the bravery they already have. To give them opportunities to step into real situations they find uncomfortable and truly take the time to connect with the sensations that come with that.
Critical conversations are skillful, respectful, and powerful.
That’s leadership. That’s emotional bravery. And exercising that muscle is what develops powerful leaders.