The Leadership Success Formula: A Guide to Courageous Leadership

In talking with a client the other day about her fear around delivering tough feedback, I realized what she was trying to balance delicately was her empathy with her expectations. We talked at length about the courage it takes to lead in this way. And so, I created a formula I wanted to share with you:  Empathy + Expectations = Courageous Leadership.


What is Courageous Leadership? While there are varying official definitions, I believe it’s the ability of an individual in a position of authority or influence to demonstrate bravery, resilience and ethical decision-making in the face of challenges and uncertainty. The courageous leader isn’t afraid to take risks, speak up for what’s right, and make tough decisions for the greater good. They inspire and motivate, are trusted, innovative and accountable.


Picture this: Employee Elizabeth, stepping into a new leadership role, wrestling with imposter syndrome amidst a sea of seasoned peers who exude confidence. It’s a familiar struggle for many, and a hallmark moment for a Courageous Leader. Take Laura, Elizabeth’s boss, who skillfully intertwines her own past challenges with empathy. She acknowledges Elizabeth’s battle with imposter syndrome, drawing on her own similar experience, creating a bridge of understanding that echoes with authenticity.


But it doesn’t end there. A Courageous Leader, like Laura, also sets clear expectations, carving out a roadmap of milestones and goals. When the inevitable hurdles appear, a leader must not only address the breakdowns but also propel the team forward. Laura, attuned to Elizabeth’s reluctance to share her expertise due to her imposter syndrome, confronts the issue head-on. She not only empathizes with Elizabeth’s struggle but reinforces the expectations—underlining the imperative need for Elizabeth’s unique skills to shine in her new role.


Yet, Courageous Leadership is no walk in the park. Laura, despite her confidence, grapples with the fear of upsetting Elizabeth or demotivating her. The paradox lies in understanding that true courage is not the absence of fear but the audacity to confront it. The formula becomes a guiding light: Empathy + Expectations. It’s a harmonious blend of comprehending others’ experiences while holding them to agreed-upon goals.


The Courageous Leader’s journey is marked by a willingness to face fear head-on, acknowledging its presence but refusing to be paralyzed by it. It’s about understanding and validating others’ experiences while unwaveringly upholding expectations. In this dance of empathy and expectations, the Courageous Leader propels the team forward, taking decisive action for collective progress.


So, let’s embrace the journey of Courageous Leadership, where fear is not the adversary but a companion on the path to transformative leadership. Through empathy and expectations, we unlock the true potential of our teams and ourselves, creating a ripple effect of growth and success.

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