Leadership: Courage The Differentiator

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Today’s problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, corruption and ethnic wars, lack of liberty and justice, globalization that is skewed, and environmental degradation are threatening the flora and fauna and lives of many people throughout the world and putting future generations at great risk. The issues have actually heightened and their solutions require urgent and radical changes. Academics and scholars argue that contemporary leadership practices will not be able to solve these problems. Preserving the status quo is all what contemporary leadership practices are concerned with or they are not doing anything to solve them.

This paper argues that for these problems to be solved there is need for courageous leadership practices. These courageous leaders are brave, have a heart, spirit and exceptional intellectual and emotional capacity to make drastic changes. They are risk takers and able to face and deal with difficult problems instead of overtaking them to move organizations and nations forward. They are creative to make objective analysis, select the most effective strategies, motivate people at their maximum capacities and act under high uncertainties. Great courageous political leaders of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as Ataturk, Mao, Lenin, Castro, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and the others made drastic changes. They solved many difficult problems through utilizing again some of those courage-related characteristics. Also, business leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Strive Masiyiwa used some of those courage-related characteristics for building new and successful business organizations.

This paper analyzes the courage characteristics of these leaders to include intellectual (knowledge) courage, moral courage, creativity courage, biological courage, and follower’s courage. The analysis will be based on the framework of strategic management process. The insights are gathered from their leadership experiences that may provide some perspectives for the leaders to solve current problems and satisfy people’s needs.


The biggest problems the world is facing today is hunger, poverty, unemployment, corruption terrorism and wars. Populations have been denied of their liberty, justice is non-existent, unfair globalization and environmental degradation are generating crises, distress and anxieties in the societies. People’s lives have been put at risk as a result of these problems. As evidenced contemporary leadership practices have failed to address these problems. Most people, many academicians and scholars argue that the current political and economic policies of contemporary leadership practices will not be able to solve the current problems; and they need to be changed (Drucker, 1993; Senge, Kellerman, 2012; Ross, 2011; Stiglitz, 2012). Contemporary leaders in today’s world mostly protect their own interests, and the interests of the political and economic groups that brought them into these positions. (Reich, 2010). Their political and economic policies are more concerned with short-term objectives for quick results and they neglect to address difficult problems that are highly likely to be harmful for the society in the long-term (Sacks, 2008; Collis, 1998).

Stiglitz noted that the economic policies of contemporary leadership practices generated unequal groups of 1% and 99% in many countries based on income and wealth figures (Stiglitz, 2012). The political policies provided disproportionate voice to those at the top. These kind of policies are very evident in Zimbabwe. Democracy is no longer at play because of these policies, and the vision of democracy of many people became the democracy of 1%, by 1%, for the 1% of the people at the expense of the remaining 99 % (Stiglitz, 2012). Many people express dissatisfactions with their leaders throughout the world due to unfair and inappropriate contemporary leadership practices. These inappropriate leadership practices have been met with protests. There have been protests in Zimbabwe, Sudan and Spain. These protests were outraged by the high rate of unemployment, poverty and high cost of living. The ‘occupy wall street’ in the United States were even louder in expressing their anger and dismayed with the economic and political policies of the current leaders. People in Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Bahrain resisted and even risked their lives for opposing the policies of dictatorial leaders. In some countries, many writers, journalists, academicians, and students were suppressed, terrorized and even jailed for being critical of the current leadership practices and demands for the change of those policies. The protests in Zimbabwe in January 2019 and the murder of Journalist Gilstrict in Turkey are examples of how people can be jailed, dehumanized and women raped for expressing their opinions. Some scholars argue that contemporary leadership practices were changed and they came to an end as the leadership shifted from individual leaders to followers (Ross; Stiglitz, 2012). This though does not seem to happen in Zimbabwe in the new future. There is need for a new paradigm shift which requires radical changes of political, economic and social policies of an organization and a nation (Barker, 1992). Although strong demand of followers and the scale of problems were developed enough for radical changes, courageous leadership is necessary to accomplish such transformations.

The aim of this paper is to analyze the courageous leadership practices of great leaders and focus on major courage characteristics that play an important role for successful leadership practices. It also aims to investigate the nature and the sources of the courage characteristics and determine how, where, and when they are used in their leadership practices. The writer believes this analysis is the first to examine the impact of courage in leadership practices systematically within the strategic management framework (Thompson, Strickland and Gamble, 2010). The strategic management framework determines how courage characteristics influence a leader’s successes and presents some insights from their leadership experiences.

This is how this paper is organized. The introductory part is on the concept of courage, courage characteristics and strategic leadership characteristics as shown in section 2. Section 3 brings out the method of analysis which is made within the framework of strategic leadership process. Section 4 is on the utilization of courage characteristics with examples from experiences of great courageous leaders. The final part are conclusions and discussions.

Concept of Courage, Courage Characteristics and Strategic Leadership Practices: Literature Review

Courage is a pertinent quality of leaders for determining the impressive vision and achieving the exceptional outcomes. There are a number of courage characteristics that play an important role in effective leadership practices. This paper looks at courage-related characteristics including intellectual, moral, creativity, biological and followers’ courage characteristics.

Concept of courage and courage characteristics

Most leadership scholars have defined leadership as a process of influencing relationship among leaders and followers (Rost, 1993). In this paper thus, strategic leadership is defined as a process of developing a shared vision, environmental scan analyzing the internal and external environment, designing and implementing strategies for solving problems and satisfying followers’ needs. Available literature shows that the majority of successful leaders used some or most of the elements of this process (Thompson Jr., Strickland, and Gamble, 2010; Daft, 2005). It is also clear and of importance that successful leadership outcomes depend on the styles and qualities of leaders, and followers, and the environmental conditions of the organization and the nation (Daft, 2005; Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson, 1997). Hostile environments have tended to produce dictatorial tendencies. The style of leadership is crucial in how leaders make drastic changes and solve difficult problems for the benefit of followers’ needs and demands. Examples of these leadership styles are transformational leadership (Tichy and Devenna, 1986), charismatic leadership (Conger and Kanungo, 1988), participative leadership including stewardship (Block, 1993), servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977; Sendjaya and Sarros, 2002), visionary leadership (Nanus, 1992), and democratic leadership (Ackoff, 1994; Sen, 2003). Such leaders require qualities of deep intellectual intelligence, skills and values such as honesty, integrity, drive, collectivity, justice, courage, fairness and these play a significant role for a successful leadership (Stogdill, 1948 and 1974; Locke, 1991). Studies have also brought out that the emotional intelligence of a leader’s ability to perceive, identify, and manage emotions such as anger, fear, and love for self and followers are important for leadership success (Goleman, 1995).

Other studies have argued that the qualities of followers including participation, awareness, courage, independence, dependability, responsibility and cooperativeness are important for effective leadership (Chaleff, 1995; Kauzes and Posner, 1993). It has also been argued the quality followers are important for effective leadership and they become the source of power to take over the leadership practices for the outcomes of effective leadership (Kellerman, 2012; Ross, 2011).

Strategic Leadership and Courage

The Webster Dictionary (1973) courage is defined as a mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. It is the ability to act in spite of doubt or fear. Courage is about accepting responsibility, breaking traditions, reducing boundaries, and initiating change. It’s when a person pushes beyond the comfort zone, focusing on what one wants and saying what one thinks, and fighting for what one believes (Daft, 2005). Effective leaders have courage to see difficult situations and accept responsibility for the outcomes of decisions and actions. Those leaders who do not have courage to express their own ideas and opinions and feelings do injustice to themselves and their followers. Courage is the foundation of all the values (May, 2012) both physical and nonphysical and increase the capacity of humans to reach their maximum potential to undertake risky and difficult situations. Courage is considered the foundation of human values that influence all other values positively to increase their effectiveness. As shown in Figure 1 courage is the core of leadership.

As shown in figure 2 the tenets provide for leaders to take risks under uncertain and difficult situations; think wisely, have big visions, and decide optimally, analyze objectively, select and create appropriate strategies accurately, and motivate followers fully to achieve extra ordinary results. The available courage characteristics and their depth determine the degree of courage. Those who have more of the courage characteristics are relatively more courageous. These characteristics also impact on the leadership process, as well as affect values such as honesty, integrity, collectivity, justice, and fairness. However, leaders like Hitler,

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Mussolini, Stalin, Mugabe, and Museveni who have negative values such as selfishness, arrogance, dishonesty, prejudice and who are associated with acts of violence, harm followers and their environments (Ludwig, 2002).

This paper considers the impact of courage characteristics on positive values utilized for successful leadership practices for making positive change and solving the current difficult problems. The notable leaders who have exemplified this are Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, Vladimir Lenin of Russia, Mao Zedong of China, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Mahatma Gandhi of India, and Martin Luther King Junior of America and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. They did build their nations. Arnold M. Ludwig (2005) considered them successful visionary and innovative leaders. Business leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Strive Masiyiwa, and Dangote also demonstrated great courage characteristic and made drastic changes for building the most successful businesses (O’Neil, 2004).

Method of Analysis

Leadership practices continue to change and develop (Rost, 1993). The theme of this paper is grounded on past events and these past happenings provides guidance for the present and the future. During the twentieth and the twenty first centuries, some effective and successful leadership practices have affected political and economic practices of many people around the world. The world has witnessed during this period some drastic changes that played an important role in solving huge problems and achieving great developments for human life. By analyzing successful leadership practices of the past will definitely provide important lessons for current and future leaders in solving similar problems. The author analyzed the successful leadership studies within the strategic management process as shown in figure 3 below. From the figure we can actually deduce that the main activities carried out by courageous leaders include the development of visions, missions and objectives, scanning the environment objectively, coming up with superior strategies, follower motivation and taking risks for results (Thompson, Strickland and Gamble, 2010).

The author looked at various leadership practices covering the most successful leaders selected from wider geographic areas. This was done by looking at books, articles, biographies and other related materials about the successful leadership practices and these are listed in the references.

This paper makes reference to Arnold Ludwig (2002) titled King of the Mountain to determine the most successful political leaders of twentieth and twenty first centuries. This book notes Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Lenin, Castro, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr as the most successful courageous leaders. They managed to change people’s lives both economically and politically. Also on the business side the O’Neil (2004) also notes the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jorma Ollila and Howard Schultz as those who also utilized courage characteristics for their successful leadership practices for building the best business corporations.

Courage Leadership Practices for Solving the Current Problems

To gain comparative advantage courage characteristics are used relative to others. The core courage characteristics are discussed in this section such as knowledge courage, moral courage, creativity courage, biological courage and follower courage. Examples of such leaders are also given.

Intellectual courage

Intellectual knowledge allows leaders to understand what to do, how to do it, and why. This understanding provides them with confidence for developing products and services. The how aids them to understand how to do it includes all kinds of technologies, capital equipment, process, rules and principles, and activities. Emotional knowledge (EK) provide answers to the why aspect of the reasons and means for doing things. EK is about social values, ideas, intuition, imagination and beliefs. Knowledge courage is the epitome of every decision and action of a leader as the visions, missions, and objectives are rooted from this knowledge. The source of quality power thus is courage knowledge as it influences all other parts of strategic leadership. Knowledge courage generates the most competitive advantage for leaders (Quin, 1992, Stewart, 1997).

Moral Courage

Moral values such as honesty, integrity, care, humility, and quality are the main sources of human decisions, behaviours and actions in an organization or a government. The quantity of moral values and its effective use for the welfare of people depend mainly on the moral courage of leaders. Leaders who have these values and use them for the welfare of the people in organizations and nations are called moral leaders (Gini, 1997). Most African leaders lack most of these moral values. In Zimbabwe for example the worst demise of moral values when the government unleashed security details on protesters on August 1 2018 and January 2019. The two incidences led to about 20 loss of life. Moral leaders distinguish right from wrong, do right things, have honesty and integrity, seek justice, take responsibility, fulfil commitments, possess humility, show respect and serve, show courage to stand up for what is right, encourage and develop others (Zauderer, 1992) but this has not been the case in Zimbabwe. There has been continuous human rights abuses with the responsible leaders not taking appropriate action. Unlike Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior who demonstrated moral courage for gaining independence, liberty and equality for their followers, this has not been the case in Zimbabwe and the Sudan. All what has been displayed in Zimbabwe is immoral leadership by leaders who are arrogant, dishonest and self-serving, practice deception, deal unfairly, blame the opposition and others and ignore the interest of society, focus on their self-interest excessively, and exploit others in order to enhance themselves (Zauderer, 1992; Kouzes and Posner, 1993). Some leaders who harm others, such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini and Mugabe are examples for immoral leaders (Kunich and Lester, 1997). It is also true that many contemporary business leaders are involved in immoral leadership practices, and less than only one-third of leaders are honest (Wallington, 2003).

Creativity courage

Creative courage is about finding new ways, ideas, models, methods, techniques, and discoveries to make radical changes and solve difficult problems. It should be noted some creations are destructive in nature. They generate radical changes and destruction of the status quo and lead to demise of political, economic and social conditions (Schumpeter, 1961). This has been very true of the transitional government in Zimbabwe. When a creative process results in radical and destructive change of a nation, it is called a paradigm shift (Barker, 1992; Howie, 2011). It’s the birth of a new ideology, the birth of a new political, economic, and social system. Creative leaders know the past, see the present and predict the future. They establish a shared vision for changing and creating a new ideology, new political, economic and social systems, and new educational, legal and medical structures. Nelson Mandela’s creative courage played the crucial role for creating a new vision for South Africa’ s liberty and independence formulating the new strategies for political, economic and social systems.

Biological courage (talent)

Some courage characteristics are given through with birth as an inherited IK. These biological characteristics provide exceptional advantages for leadership practices (Colvin, 2010). The biological courage characteristics provide the main personality of leaders and make them different from other leaders. Biological courage of Fidel Castro’s drastic economic and social changes under the threat of a much more powerful state like the United States, and the biological courage of Robert Mugabe against Britain and the West offensive and Che Guevara’s willing to die for these changes are other examples of biological courage.

Followers courage

One cannot be a leadership without followers (Goffee and Jones, 2001). Robert E. Kelly (1992) argued that followers should be independent critical thinkers and active to participate fully in nation building. Followers should be critical thinkers to be aware of the significance of their own actions and actions of others. Followers without courage leave thinking to their leaders and do what they are told to do. Courageous followers should have the will to accept responsibility, take risk to challenge authority and participate in change just like the recent protests in Zimbabwe and Sudan (Chaleff, 1995). In Zimbabwe courageous followers supported opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and even died for him.

Conclusion and Discussion

People have been divided due to inequality and unemployment. This has led to serious mistrust and are not cooperative to solve problems that bedevil them. Environmental problems like global warming are destroying the planet, harming many people and putting future generations at a great risk. Many homes and families have been destroyed by terrorism and wars. Corruption is the in thing in many governments and these nations are becoming unstoppable and generating unfair opportunities and competition for many people. These inequalities cause injustice, economic and political crisis for many people.

Courageous and knowledgeable followers should understand and question the wrongs and have responsibility and commitment to make change and the will to solve big problems. The great leaders like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Junior had a variety of courage-related characteristics including knowledge, moral, creative and biological as they used them for the strategic leadership process by developing the most impressive and difficult visions, and motivating their followers fully for their exceptional successes. From the experiences of these great courageous leaders it is noted that leaders can utilize courage-related characteristics to make radical changes and solve difficult problems.


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