Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

8. Courage and caution

When stepping into a different world, either one that is physically different or with different people, or into a way of leading that is different, a leader will need to develop their courage. Whether you are involved in a process of leading change, are starting out to change something, or have for a while cared deeply about something that needs to change, you must to be brave enough to take those first steps and have the courage to continue. Courage in new territory will often mean making a fool of yourself and making mistakes that you may not be so exposed to in your own space. For many, this can be a deterrent that prevents them from leading beyond their authority, and overcoming this fear is not easy.

Exercising courage

Courage allows leaders to step forward on issues instead of backwards, but it does not come to all of us all the time. Courage needs to be used regularly by leaders. By stepping into uncomfortable situations little and often, leaders can become more comfortable with exercising their courage. Just like a muscle, the courage habit needs developing and maintaining. It is important to exercise courage, not only in your actions at work, but in what you do personally, so you get used to trying new and different experiences and talking to an ever wider network of people.

The courage to listen

Being able to listen and take on board new ideas, views and, especially, feedback about ourselves can be very difficult. For many, it is difficult to find the courage for this kind of listening.

The courage to challenge

As if listening is not difficult enough, you must also have the courage to step beyond listening and challenge people in such a way that they know you are trying to help, not just to belittle them. If you are not careful, you will find that you stop people in their tracks when you challenge. Even worse, you may start telling people what to do. This is possible within your authority, but when you are beyond it, then you get lost.


We are not talking here about courage for the sake of it. It is important to be aware of the danger of stepping forward into something you are not passionate about. You must at least consider this, because it will challenge your determination and you may not have the courage to continue. Leaders, of course, also need to be sensible and will need to develop a sense of those occasions when courage is useful and other times when you are showing courage only for the sake of it and possibly stepping into areas so unfamiliar to you that rushing forwards could be harmful to you, your organisation or others around you.

Why think about this?

If you want to understand more about this, you may

  • Be letting what others think stop you taking the next step
  • Be faced with a role that requires presenting new and different ideas or proposals
  • Be worried about failing or making mistakes
  • Be considering whether to continue with a change or to give up.