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Strong Teams are Comprised of Courageous Leaders

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

Courage. It’s a word I love, because the root “cor” is Latin for “heart.” As Brene Brown said in her famous TedTalk on Vulnerability, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”

Last week I witnessed the intersection of this idea while facilitating an executive leadership retreat. And while I’ve led dozens of these, this one was different.

Here’s what happened.

True to form (and brand) I built the day to feel like we were headed out on road trip together. It was designed to take this team of ‘travelers’ on a journey of self-discovery, crucial conversations and team building. We set out with a set of exercises to establish common ground. Then we picked up speed by building on the team’s distinct strengths and core values.

By mid-day our travelers pulled out their roadmaps to look ahead and identify any crucial road blocks that might be preventing them from working together at the highest level – a difficult but powerful conversation. To wrap us up we workshopped the Power of Imagination and checked in with each other at the ‘campfire’ to talk through reflections.

Day One was in the books. Check.

The next morning I noticed that something had shifted. It seemed like the group’s voices got bigger overnight. It was clear that the time and space to sit with their thoughts and ideas allowed for deep reflection which made room for other ideas and connections to surface.

In my own deep reflection, I wanted to share the four types of courage I saw emerge that day:

  1. The courage to speak up.

It’s easy to ‘go along to get along’ isn’t it? In settings like this, team members can find their cruise control and coast if they want to. It takes courage to break from norms. The morning of Day 2, four separate team members (out of eleven) spoke up in some form or fashion and said, “I know this is not on the agenda, but I think we still have roadblocks to address, Jes.”  They were right. So we did.

2.  The courage to change the agenda.

Our original roadmap for Day 2 was to drive ahead and dig into the strategic plan and talk budgets and roles. But if you still have roadblocks in your way, you have to have the courage to take a detour and trust that you will still get to your destination. So we rerouted. The team took another hour to wrestle with ideas and challenge one another. The table stakes were high and no one walked away.

3. The courage to be alone…together.

After our detour, the barriers were down and the engines were running. Every member of that team was comfortable with their own individual reflection and unique ideas. They recognized that they can be alone in how they approach and think about their work yet still be together in pursuit of the same outcome.

4. The courage to lead.

There’s a million ways to look at leadership but trusted leadership involves open communication, psychological safety and the willingness to actually lead. By the time we got back to the original agenda items for the day, the spirit of the room was transformed. The work was elevated and the ideas freshly inspired! A new sense of leadership and accountability had emerged – one that was seeded in courage.

Ultimately, a trip worth taking.

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