Cowardice and courage are obvious before and during battle.  In 1991, I witnessed another 1st Lieutenant back out of mission that I later volunteered for as a result of his cowardice.

In another part of the battlefield, I had a friend dismount from his tank and walk his platoon through a minefield while under enemy fire.  That act of courage earned him a Silver Star.  Those examples of cowardice and courage are easy to identify.

But, cowardice and courage in the business world are not always as obvious.  Sometimes they appear in the big moments when others are watching.  At other times they occur when no one is around to see them.

I define courage as acting without regard for perceived or actual personal risk.

When Front Line Leaders Demonstrate Cowardice or Courage

  • Cowardice:  If I allow someone I lead to ruin our culture for the rest of the team.
  • Courage:  If I coach the issue promptly and act decisively if they are unwilling to change.
  • Cowardice:  If I do not address the chronic tardiness of a high performing and tenured member of the team.
  • Courage:  If I maintain the standards for all team members no matter their tenure or job performance.
  • Cowardice: If I consistently fight change because it is risky.
  • Courage:  If I embrace and lead change realizing risk aversion is a terrible leadership strategy.
  • Cowardice:  If I allow people on my team to treat others disrespectfully.
  • Courage:  If I stop in the middle of the meeting and address a disrespectful action or comment.
  • Cowardice:  If I don’t act on a performance issue because of the hassles involved.
  • Courage:  If I begin the coaching and documentation process early despite the hassles of HR and legal paperwork requirements.
  • Cowardice: If I do not confront my boss when she is out of line or abusive towards others.
  • Courage:  If I pull my boss to the side and correct her actions even if others on the team say it is not worth it.
  • Cowardice:  If I don’t fire someone who is not meeting standards and is unwilling or unable to change.
  • Courage:  If I admit to my hiring mistake and take that person out of a job they are unwilling or unable to do adequately.
  • Cowardice:  If I do not refuse to hire someone my boss likes despite my misgivings.
  • Courage:  If I specifically lay out the reasons for my concern and hold my ground unless my boss has a more convincing and adequate reason for hiring the person.
  • Cowardice: If I complain with my peers about the decisions of my leaders without ever discussing those concerns with my leaders
  • Courage:  If I confront my leadership with my concerns and bring alternatives to them for consideration.

The Bottom Line:

Courage is a vital character trait for me as a leader whether I am in wearing combat boots or a business suit.  To be a leader of character, I must develop the courage to act no matter what the actual or perceived risks may be.

To develop my character I must first think about and study topics like courage.  Then as my thoughts remain immersed in character studies, my speech begins to reflect my thoughts.

My speech then influences my actions as I seize opportunities to act in a courageous way.  The more courageous acts I perform, the more my courageous actions become second nature or habitual.  Once I habitually act with courage, my character is that of a leader of courage.


As a leader at home or at work, what have you been avoiding because of the perceived or actual risk?  What act of courage will it take for you to move forward.