This article originally appeared in Real Leaders
In our volatile world, bravery is no longer the purview of caped crusaders. Instead, it’s an essential, though unexplored, capability that all leaders must develop. Bravery is the one force that will make a difference in an environment craving changemakers.
For some leaders, bravery challenges them to seek out unproven solutions to familiar problems. For others, it is being the lone voice, advocating what is right for your brand, customers, or employees. And for others yet, it is seeking out the humanity in our industry. Bravery makes us better as individuals and leaders. However, what happens if you struggle with harnessing your mental and moral strength? The truth is we all possess the seeds for becoming braver, and bravery can be fostered through habitual behavior.
As CMO of a branding agency and New York chair of The Marketing Society, I have the privilege of meeting many leaders. My insight is that seven keystone habits engender bravery, and these habits have the power to shape how people perform, make decisions, and lead.
1. Be audacious
Audacity is the ability to dream big and set ambitious goals. Often, the challenge is identifying where to begin. Having the courage to find ways to venture out of our comfort zones is a powerful first step. Organizations are often set up to be safe, and while brave leaders are acutely aware of boundaries, some strengthen their self-confidence by taking small steps into territories unknown. Bear in mind, audacity does not mean being foolhardy. Strike a balance between assertiveness and risk management.
2. Be curious
The heart of some of the most memorable campaigns or bold leadership initiatives is an inspired, actionable insight. However, insights only emanate from asking astute questions — and genuinely listening to the responses. For example, always be curious enough to ask the difficult questions of customers, to empathize and understand their journey. And especially for those in senior roles, it’s brave to ask for feedback and never stop questioning.
3. Be vulnerable
In business, vulnerability is generally viewed as a liability for leaders. However, in my experience, vulnerability equals strength. It is the courage to remove one’s armor and embrace uncertainty and risk, opening yourself up to public exposure of both triumphs and disappointments. For vulnerability to be institutionalized, companies need dedicated resources and budgets for experimentation as well as a culture of providing employees physiological safety. Brave leaders and brave organizations recognize that not every program will hit the success thresholds — and that’s okay.
4. Be a connector
Brave leaders recognize they cannot chart a course alone. They understand the importance of building highly functional teams, so they welcome diverse views. They ensure all team members are aligned on vision and priorities before giving them the freedom to execute and deliver. Whether it’s finding time for lunch with a senior colleague from another department or fomenting relationships outside the company, strong connections provide air cover when implementing unproven initiatives. Ultimately, being a connector produces trust, and when leaders feel trusted, it adds wind to their sails, imparting the necessary courage to push boundaries.
5. Be resilient
A defining habit of truly brave leaders is the ability, much like elite athletes, to recover quickly. Spending too much time dwelling on losses can be debilitating, limiting the ability to advance to the next project. Even the impact of the daily grind can take its toll. However, developing resiliency is not contingent on experiencing substantial losses. You can practice your resilience in accelerating your ability to pivot from that tough client meeting to the next brainstorming session. It is the speed of recovery that is integral. When getting back on the horse, does it take hours, days, or weeks?
6. Be reflective
Serious contemplation allows brave leaders to extract the right learning from successes and failures. The exercise here is being reflective in a deliberate fashion. Be careful, though — it is not about a pity party nor a gratuitous celebration. Take a beat and ruminate on the results from an experiment or experience. The intention is to celebrate the accomplishment, acknowledge the failure, and, most importantly, unearth wisdom.
7. Be selfless
It took centuries for builders to construct the grand cathedrals of Europe. These anonymous artisans made tremendous sacrifices, giving their lives for works they would never see finished. Yet their passions did not waiver because they possessed a clear sense of purpose. That kind of mentality is essential for today’s business leaders — the notion that the struggle is not just for the present but the future. Habitually check in with yourself to ensure you are clear on your purpose and focused on the long-term. Brave leaders will sacrifice short-term returns for long-term gains.
Fear not: You do not need to master every keystone habit to unlock bravery. Different personalities and cultures will exhibit various combinations of all seven. In my observation, bravery transcends socioeconomic circumstances and educational backgrounds; it is not the territory of introverts versus extroverts. Bravery is accessible to everyone — a muscle we can all develop and strengthen by practicing specific habits.
Margaret Molloy is Global Chief Marketing Officer