Homo Erectus: The Evolution of Us – Flexing Your Leadership Courage

By : Dr. Steve Yacovelli
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Remember in “The Wizard of Oz” how the Cowardly Lion — when he got to see the Wizard — was like, “What? I already had courage? WTH?” I mean, it was kinda poopy that the Wizard made the poor cat go through that drama, only to say, “That gift you want? You already got it!”

Well, leadership courage is a lot like that. When leaders ask me, “How can I get more courageous in my leadership?” I share that — like the Lion — you already got this, just tap into it (or click your heels a few times like Dorothy)!

At its core, it’s easiest to think of courage as that adrenaline-filled action hero that we see in the movies. Amazon warriors like Wonder Woman, death-facing young wizards like Harry Potter, countless soldiers and sailors entering the battle to win the war: we see these images and get an idea of what “courage” is supposed to be. But even if you’re not a Navy SEAL or a wand-wielding wizard or an immortal Amazonian princess, you’re still in luck! Courageous leadership doesn’t require you to be any of those. By nature of who you are as an LGBTQ+ person, I’d argue that you already have a whole ton of courage up your sleeve.

First and foremost, if you’ve taken the steps to be your true, authentic self then you’ve already exercised that special courage that typically goes against the norm. We can channel that power to help us be a more effective leader in the workplace and beyond.

When we think about being courageous in the workplace, even if we’re living our authentic selves, there’s still a lot of factors that can prevent us from being our most courageous and effective leadership selves. Time and again, these are the top three “courage-inhibitors” that tend to come up for leaders, especially LGBTQ+ leaders.

1. The Challenge of Fear. If you were to ask around, you’d likely find that a lack of courage and abundance of complacency in the workplace comes down to one simple thing — fear. When we think about this in the business context it can be broken down into two subtypes: fear of (perceived or actual) failure and fear of feeling like an outsider.

With the first, we tend to strive for perfectionism. Typically, most folks want to be seen as a rock star performer and anything less is deemed a failure. The latter comes from a more personal place, where challenging the status quo may make you feel like an outsider in your workplace. As LGBTQ+ people, we’ve most likely had that feeling before, or maybe still do. So, in a work context, this desire to avoid the feeling of being the “other” leads us to be compliant, even if we know the idea really needs to be challenged for the good of the organization. Having leadership courage here is to be OK with failing, being OK with being perceived as that outsider for the sake of doing better work, benefiting your team members or moving your organization forward.

2. The Challenge of Assumptions (or “Filling in The Blanks”). As humans, we often fill in the gaps when we’re presented with a situation where we don’t know all the data. It’s easy for us to connect the dots between one problem and the next, even when the two aren’t related, without taking the time to examine our own approach. It’s how we humans are wired. When we think of this in the context of courage, we’re either avoiding truly understanding the situation or we’re scared to dive deeper into the truth of the situation. Having leadership courage means lifting up those rocks and seeing what’s underneath; lack of courage here is making assumptions about the situation without knowing all the information.

3. The Challenge of Being Locked into Current Behaviors. Let’s talk about change for a minute. I’ll tell you something you probably already know: Most people don’t like change. On a fundamental level, change is a really fab idea; it’s fresh and new, it expands horizons, it allows us to be innovative and to have new experiences.

In the workplace context, we initiate change so that our organization can grow and prosper. But the truth is the vast majority of people hate change. Why? On one hand, humans unconsciously don’t like to change because it hits a part of our brain that likes safety and security. Our cave-ancestors were wired to be fearful of changes. Engaging in something new could lead to a dangerous situation. Flash-forward to today, we’re still wired like this in changing situations. When most people engage in change, it leads to an unsettling feeling of vulnerability.

On the other hand, most folks’ conscious selves don’t like change because it’s hard. We get used to situations and know how to act and adjust to them, even if the situation isn’t ideal. Some humans don’t like change so much that they’d sooner stay in a bad situation than make a move to newness. So, whether unconscious or conscious, for most people change is hard! It takes courage to try something new, something different and individual resilience to keep at it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first time.

As LGBTQ+ people courage is part of our foundation: the courage to be ourselves, to love who we love, to be our authentic selves in front of the world. It’s a super power that every LGBTQ+ person I know has within them: it’s just a matter of avoiding the three “courage-inhibitors” and channeling that courage just like the not-so-Cowardly Lion did. ROAR!

Dr. Steve Yacovelli (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is owner & principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC. His latest book, “Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle” was released June 2019. For more information, visit TopDogLearning.biz.

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