Glenn Williams

by Glenn Williams


Redefining courage

In 2007, Robert Eckert, the CEO of Mattel Toys, chose not to recall millions of toys he had learned contained excessive lead. Instead of taking responsibility for the products and their failure to comply with safety standards, he blamed the Chinese manufacturers.

While some might argue Eckert was brave to resist a global product recall with huge financial implications for his company, most would argue “courageous and honest leaders do not abandon the principles of their organization’s visions when their efforts to realize the vision suffer setbacks and failures.”[i]

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman suggest there are four character-strengths associated with courage[ii]:

  • Bravery
  • Persistence
  • Integrity
  • Vitality

While bravery and persistence are two traits we find easier to identify with courage, many might be surprised to see integrity and vitality.

The cost of bravery — when leaders 'stay the course' and exercise courage in the face of opposition, rejection, and the possibility of failure — is the possible risk, or vulnerability that could come at a significant cost to the leader or organization. It is at this juncture that a leader’s character is defined; along with the organization he or she leads.

When we see something wrong, often it is easier to ignore it; when one person speaks poorly about one of our colleagues or peers, it is easier to agree or laugh about it; or when we see some creative adjustments to the latest sales figures you convince yourself that it’s standard practice.

This is why I believe Peterson and Seligman include ‘integrity’ as one of the four character strengths of courage. Integrity is defined as authenticity and honesty; it is about truthfulness and “highlights the need to look for integrity in situations and circumstances in which the easy thing to do, is not the right thing to do.”[iii]

However, integrity breeds vitality! Taking a difficult stand on an issue can be inspiring to those watching.  When leaders practice courage, there is a vitality and energy that invites participation and provides inspiration—personally and organizationally. It is not insecure. It’s progressive. It’s respectful. It empowers. It’s truthful.

This is why building resilient character as one of the 5 Leadership Anchors™ is so important; courage embraces emerging challenges in such a way that it gives life to the organization. [iv]

What’s the bottom-line?

We need to model courage in a way that inspires and gives life to those who work with us. Here are a few questions to reflect on:

  • Do others see you as someone resistant to change and closed to new ideas, or an inspired leader focused on ensuring the vision won't be derailed?
  • Do you communicate honestly with your colleagues and staff when a difficult decision needs to be made? Do you have a reputation that is considered trustworthy?
  • Do you frequently compromise your values and what is really important to you?

[i] Arménio Rego, Miguel Pina e Cunha, and Stewart Clegg, The Virtues of Leadership: Contemporary Challenges for Global Managers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 73.

[ii] Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman, Character, Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004), 198.

[iii] Peterson and Seligman, 206.

[iv] Arménio Rego, Miguel Pina e Cunha, and Stewart Clegg, 8.


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