Are You Brave Enough as a Leader?

braveryThis weekend my daughter (who is almost 5) asked me a thoughtful question at dinner.

“Daddy, what is bravery?”

Several thoughts flashed through my mind in an instant. I wanted to give her an answer simplistic enough for her to understand but accurate enough to address the complexity of her question.

Bravery is when you’re not afraid, I thought, then immediately rejected that answer. “Bravery isn’t the absence of fear!,” my mind yelled. “Most people who have to be brave admit to also being quite scared at the same time!”

I decided at that moment to use a definition of the word courage I’d heard years earlier.

“Well honey,” I said, “bravery is when something makes you scared or uncomfortable, but you do it any way, because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Like when I had to get a shot at the doctors and didn’t want to, but squeezed my eyes shut and did it anyway, and it hurt bad, but only for a minute?,” she replied.

“Exactly,” I said. “You were very brave that day.”

Seemingly satisfied by my answer, she returned to her mac and cheese. My mind, however, continued pondering the subject of bravery, and I thought for a while about many of the practice managers, office managers, and physicians I work with. Many of them, it turns out, probably need to exercise a bit more bravery.

Leaders face situations that cause fear or discomfort every day. Having to tell truth to power is one I hear often. Or having to give feedback knowing an employee will get defensive or emotional.

But great leaders display bravery. They know their words or actions may disrupt a fragile harmony, but they do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. Their action is the only way to fix a problem, help the team, or overcome a barrier. It isn’t easy, but it IS necessary.

So here’s some food for thought for you: What are you avoiding, as a leader, because it’s scary or uncomfortable? Where do you need to reach for bravery?

Please share your thoughts in the comments box below! ~Joe

Joe Mull, M.Ed. is President of Ally Training & Development, which provides leadership development, management training, and staff development programs to healthcare providers. He is the author of Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians & Managers Must Do to Engage & Inspire Healthcare Teams which is available on For more info on Joe visit

3 thoughts on “Are You Brave Enough as a Leader?

  1. If I could add a postscript to the definition of bravery, it would be this: “Bravery is having the inner strength and determination to lead through challenges with kindness, humility, and respect.”

    Using your example of a child getting a shot, we wouldn’t think a child was very brave who acted out of fear and kicked the nurse who administered the shot. Part of bravery is controlling our emotions under pressure.

    I’ve met many leaders who will disrupt a situation to affect change. Some, however, do so from a place of fear and control, and because they don’t have respect of their team, they are never fully able to produce a successful result.

    Kindness, humility, and respect open doors to true change.

    • Thanks so much for this thoughtful addition to the topic, Amy! You’re right. Successful leaders have the emotional intelligence and confidence to avoid acting out of fear. This is critical for any leader, at any level!

  2. As a nurse of ten years and an owner of a small business for the past year, I’ve been faced with the challenge of bravery on several occasions. Having been a “people pleaser” my entire life, I’ve found it easier to just go with the flow, but with my new role as owner, I’ve had to step up and take control of situations that may not always “please” everyone and that has required me to be brave. It’s been stressful and nerve-wracking to speak out for what I believe in and for what is ethically right. Ultimately the journey of my first year of business has tested my character, but I’ve remained steady in my emotions, I’ve taken the time to listen to the opposition, and I continue to practice empathy. I’ve learned that no class or workshop will teach me how to deal with all of the obstacles that I’ve faced or that I’m going to face; It’s not until the “crucial conversation” moment that I’ve found the patience, wisdom, passion and faith to be brave.

    Thank you Joe Mull! I enjoy reading your emails and utilizing constructive thinking appropriately 

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