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Cultivating Courage: Looking Fear in the Face, For Our Teams and Ourselves

Courage - Looking Fear In the Face

Practice #3: Cultivating Courage

Learn more about the 7 Impactful Practices.

By Janet Foutty, Executive Chair of the Board, Deloitte US

As women leaders, it takes courage to rise to the top—and even more courage to thrive there. But courage isn’t something you either have or don’t; it’s something you build every time you choose to act despite risk of embarrassment, judgement, or failure.

Today, in an uncertain world, there’s no shortage of challenges we’ve never faced, of things we think we cannot do. But if there’s an upside, it’s that there are more opportunities than ever for rising leaders to cultivate the courage they need as individuals, and on behalf of their organizations and teams.

Here’s how to, as Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “look fear in the face”—and emerge stronger for it.

Make it Personal

Though courageous leadership inherently impacts all those around us, it begins with advocacy – for yourself and for others. Of course, to arrive at the top, women have to become advocates: whether it’s making a bold decision or having a difficult conversation, every experience is an opportunity to learn how to abandon our comfort zones and call upon courage to make our voices heard.

I know that’s been the case for me. At every step of my career, I’ve learned the benefits of gracefully (and sometimes not gracefully!) speaking my mind, with colleagues and clients alike, and offering candor, even in moments when it feels uncomfortable.

But all of this starts with allowing yourself to feel vulnerable. So I try to model that for my teams—both in big tough moments and small fun ones. Like letting this winter’s Olympic games serve as inspiration for an ice skating adventure (that is not the courageous part – I have been skating mediocrely since I was a kid) and posting a video of it on social media (courageous part!)

Be inspired by others and pass it on

Look at any thriving organization, and you won’t just find a courageous leader—you’ll find courageous teams. The most successful leaders not only model courage in everything they do, but recognize that courage in others. These leaders harness the energy and boldness of their teams to apply new ideas and thinking that could disrupt ‘business as usual’—leading to greater innovation and better long-term outcomes.

For example, I recently dove into the Metaverse thanks to the vision of my very smart colleagues. Together, we are beginning to explore how we could expand the capabilities we bring to our clients, and to our own business in a variety of ways. At first, this conversation was slightly intimidating—not all of us were familiar with this emerging technology. Yet, by drawing upon each other’s courage and pushing ourselves to take risks, we can successfully challenge our established way of doing things—which includes pushing my own board’s thinking on the implications of Unlimited Reality.  (note to self – promise to post my V/R headset picture soon 😊)

As leaders, through example and direct conversations, we must encourage our teams to do the things that scare them (and might embarrass them?) —and accept that sometimes, achieving success means making mistakes along the way.

The decisions and endeavors that make us the most uncomfortable will often provide the greatest value down the road—sparking growth, innovation, and transformation. By seeing every opportunity as one to cultivate courage, you will grow as a leader, inspire your teams, and maximize your impact.

Next up:

Please join our author trio as we celebrate the official book launch at the Simmons Leadership Conference, “Cultivating Courage & Connection” featuring Simone Biles, Amanda Gorman, and Brené Brown. April 13.

This article was previously published on LinkedIn on February 23, 2022, as part of a LinkedIn series in conjunction with Simmons University’s Susan MacKenty Brady and Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten highlighting essential practices for thriving in leadership. It is based on our upcoming book Arrive and Thrive, 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership. Pre-order your book today. Stay tuned!