Courage and Vision in Leadership

BPS 6332: Strategic Leadership Assignment 1 Courage and Vision in Leadership October 8, 2009 [pic] School of Management University of Texas at Dallas Courage in Leadership Courage has always been defined as one of the essential characteristics of a leader. Many great leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have exhibited un-paralleled courage in leading for their just cause. The 2008 US presidential candidate and Senator John McCain in his article “In Search of Courage” has brilliantly emphasized on the significance of courage in a leader (McCain).

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According to him, courage stands out among all the traits of a leader, and one who lacks courage is simply not a leader. The article has gracefully articulated the value of courage in leading organizations and nations. What is interesting about the article is that on one hand it emphasizes on the need of courage as the only way to succeed while on the second hand it notes that courage is no longer demanded by the individuals whom the leader serves. A consequence of the latter is that our leaders do not exhibit courage as we do not demand it from them.

An inherent directive is thus to expect courage from our leaders and to realize them of this expectation. For a leader, courage is all about making a decision that is unusual and then motivating people to enroll and mobilize behind that decision. The main drivers behind courage are emotional commitment and vision. A courageous decision may not be an obvious choice, but it is the direct results of the leader’s confidence and optimism. An imminent example is that of Nelson Mandela who remained in prison for twenty-seven years but his confidence and commitment in making South Africa a multiracial country never wavered.

Kathleen Reardon in her article has also asserted on the role of courage in leadership. She believes that good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves and they do so with careful consideration and analysis (Reardon 60). Senator McCain notes that the ability of a leader to make courageous decisions improves as he continues to do the tasks that he thought that he could not do. According to him the more resistance you feel the better equipped you will be in making tough choices boldly. One could not agree more than this statement from Senator McCain. Everyone has an ability to make a change.

However, only courageous leaders have the strength, passion, and faith to bear unavoidable resistance along the way. Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier. According to him it was the most turbulent ride of his life as he was approaching that barrier. However, it became calm as he went past that milestone (Freeman). Reardon echoes Senator McCain’s assertion related to the grooming of a courageous leader (Reardon 60). According to her, courage is not necessarily an inborn attribute of a leader; rather it is acquired and learned through years and decades of decision-making process.

Often times, it is associated with high risk-taking, controversy, and blame from peers and sub-ordinates. Making Courageous Decisions Having said that courage is the key to success in leadership, it is interesting to understand how it is exercised. There are six discrete processes that help make courageous decisions (Reardon 60). They are listed below with a brief explanation for each: 1. Setting goals. Setting the goals and objectives is the first step towards making a bold decision. At this point, it is important to ensure that the goals are achievable and “pie-in-the-sky” ambitions should be avoided. . Importance of goals. It is also important to determine how significant the goals are to the organization and to its mission statement. Another concern is that if there is a risk involved in making a decision, is it worth pursuing it considering the importance of the goals? In other words, what is the trade-off between the risk and the value of the outcome of decision? 3. Tipping the balance power. Bold and courageous decisions are made easier if the leader enjoys support from his fellow workers.

A bold leader may, therefore, try to attain considerable control by gaining power in the organization. 4. Weighing risks and rewards. A courageous decision is accompanied with a carefully analyzed trade-off between the expected benefits of the decision and any risk related to the career advancement and job safety of the leader. 5. Selecting the right time. Courageous leaders are patient and they always watch out for the right opportunity to act. Even if they have their plan ready to be implemented they would wait for the time with the most appropriate risk-reward balance. 6.

Developing contingency plans. Courageous leaders are always prepared for any kind of outcome and have appropriate contingency plan ready. Courage and Ethics On the aspect of courage and ethics, Uhl-Bien and Carsten noted that organizations have instilled a culture of silence and obedience within employees, including the leaders (Uhl-Bien and Carsten 188). This practice of “following” inhibits the promotion of courage and prevents leaders from taking unprecedented bold initiatives towards the betterment of the organization. Such a culture should be discouraged in organizations.

Promoting ethical standards and practices is sometimes challenging in an organization. The reason is that the culture of followership is ingrained to such an extent that unethical practices by managers and leaders are deliberately left un-noticed. Fostering Courage in Leaders According to Senator McCain, fear and love are indispensable to courage and both of them should be present for the courage to exist. Fear prevents us from taking a just action whereas courage encourages us to take that action. Similarly, courage is developed when we love something more than our well-being. Interestingly, Parker. J.

Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak has also revealed a relationship between leadership and fear (Palmer, Chapter on “Leading from Within”). Palmer believes that courageous leaders confront their fears themselves rather than passing them onto those that they serve. Exercise should be cautioned, however, when fear is presented as a “must have” for courage. In his book Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, Gus Lee states (Lee): “An executive without courage is a captive of fear who cannot lead others across the river. ” It is clear that fear is used in a different context in the above statement by Lee.

For example, consider a situation when a manager is faced with an unexpected problem that needs an innovative and courageous initiative. There are chances that the pursuit of that innovative path may lead to a problematic solution. In this case, fear may impair the leadership capabilities of the manager who lacks courage. Uhl-Bien and Carsten, on the other hand, have taken another view of inducing courage in leaders (Uhl-Bien and Carsten 198). They claim that courageous leaders should opt for responsibility rather than hierarchy because hierarchy explicitly defines the goals of all employees in the organization.

In other words, leaders at all levels should empower themselves and promote the culture of bold decision making within the organization. A completely orthogonal approach to enabling courage is presented by Ronald Heifetz. According to him courage is indispensable in adaptive problems whose solution is not generally known, such as reforming public education and providing affordable healthcare (Heifetz, Kania, and Kramer 26, Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky). The primary task in leading through adaptive problems is to motivate and mobilize people through tough challenges and defuse any internal conflicts.

Negative Implications of Courage and Boldness It is very important to realize that courage can sometimes be interpreted in a negative manner in the business world. For example, the unethical acts of Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom and Ken Lay of Enron are referred by some as bold steps because they were unprecedented and were taken at the will of the leaders. However, it should be noted that they were aimed towards personal benefits and not in favor of the growth of the organization. Courage and Vision The two leadership attributes of courage and vision are strongly linked to each other.

According to Nichvalodoff, the two key qualities of a courageous and bold leader are breaking from the status quo and championing a bold vision for the future of the organization (Nichvalodoff). Our next reading illustrates that both courage together with vision plays even a greater role in innovative and effective leadership. Vision as a Pre-requisite to Courage There is no denying that courage is a vital characteristic of leadership. However, one may argue that vision is essential before the act of courage can occur. A great example of vision is the story of Chief, Dr.

Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr. V), an Indian eye surgeon, who has changed thousands of lives and the global market for eye surgery like no one else ever has done before. Dr. V’s secret to leadership is the pursuit of perfection towards his vision and goal (Rubin 4). He is a true visionary as he made his vision reality by giving vision to others. He conquered his vision despite the many obstacles in pursuit of that perfection. So many people fail to reach their full potential and are never bound for leadership, because they lack the vision and pursuit of perfection that it requires.

Dr. V had just become a new obstetrician when he contracted rheumatoid arthritis and was no longer able to deliver babies due to his crippled hands. However, this did not stop him and he decided to pursue another vision, this time ophthalmology. He made a decision that took a lot of courage and boldness to do knowing that he had developed what some may think as a disability. When he switched to ophthalmology, he had to train himself to hold a knife and to perform cataract surgery despite his physical pain.

His solution was to design his own instruments that would work with his hands, and these instruments allowed him to do as many as 100 surgeries a day. He became the most admired cataract surgeon in India. Striving for perfection as Dr. V did takes courage and these are some risks that many are afraid to take. It is these bold moves that make great leaders. Examples of other CEOs that have made bold decisions are that of Nokia’s, Jorma Ollila , who made the wise but risky decision of selling their other business and focus on mobile phones; or at Volvo where Johansson sold off one of the ewels in the crown of Swedish industry when he sold the car division to Ford. These, undoubtly, are decisions that only courageous leaders with vision could make. (Eisenstat, Beer, Foote, Fredberg, and Norrgren 53) What stands out about Dr. V is truly his vision. Dr. V’s vision was not to have a successful eye surgery hospital, but to change his country by providing vision to those who never imagined being able to see again so that they in return could provide for their families and villages. In 1976 he opened his first hospital and now runs five hospitals that perform more than 180,000 operations each year.

Dr. V has given vision to over one million people. When Dr. V. started, there were no more than eight ophthalmologists in India. Today, his hospital is the largest single provider of eye surgery in the world. Seventy percent of his patients pay no money for their surgeries; the remaining thirty percent seek him out and pay for his services because the quality of his work is world-class. As described by Rubin, “He is a doctor to the eyes and a leader to the soul” (Rubin 146). Vision and Marketing Dr. V. created the service so perfect that it created its own demand, i. e. market driving.

He understood the disadvantage his country had with so many people unable to see due to cataracts and saw a market there. His market was the underprivileged blind of India that later grew to a global market. Dr. V. explains as so do many other wise leaders: “If You Are Looking for a Big Opportunity, Find a Big Problem” (Rubin 147). Though Dr. V was very adamant that he was not running a business, he did share one thing that all market-driving companies have in common – vision. These market driving companies are guided by a unique vision or a “radical idea” rather than by traditional market research.

Such a vision usually involves high risk that requires courageous decision, but also yields unlimited potential (Rubin 150). Dr. V’s thinking is “Give people a new experience, one that deeply change their lives, make it affordable, and eventually you change the whole world. And your customers become your marketers” (Rubin 151). Dr. V’s marketing vision came from observing the marketing success of companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. He asked himself “if these companies are able to market their product to millions of people and are able to sell billions of hamburgers and soft drinks each year, why can I not market, the gift of vision? Dr. V knew that he could achieve perfection in his business by providing a service that he could not sell to his market. He understood that his services could not be afforded by his market, so he found a way to make it affordable and then began to educate his market on his available services. Needless to say, Dr. V led a very vision-centric marketing plan and continued to use a vision-based management style as he managed his different hospitals and worked towards his objective. He possessed the same type of characteristics that a vision-led process holds.

Usually the process is guided by a philosophy to which management is committed but which is not yet obvious in the organization’s daily life (Walton 6). Dr. V performed surgeries like all the people of his team. He was the chief surgeon yet he worked amongst his staff and truly showed his commitment to his initiative. Vision-led processes also contemplate heightened levels of performance that are not yet realizable but that can be inspiring (Walton 7). When Dr. V decided to study ophthalmology, it was unsure if anyone besides himself could see the impact that he would make on so many lives.

Vision and Innovation Innovation has also contributed to the success of Dr. V’s vision. One of the most interesting things about Dr V’s story is that even with 70% of his surgeries being free, his hospital still yields 40% gross margin. To make this possible, he is constantly developing innovative ways of cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and building his market. Surprisingly, profit or even money for that matter, is not important to Dr. V. He lives off of his pension and does not take a penny from his hospitals. As he once explained, “I don’t run a business.

I give people their sight” (Rubin 148). Dr. V believed that in order for you to achieve perfection and make your vision reality, it is important to respect money, but not to be motivated by it. Shared Vision It’s easy to see that even with his vision, Dr. V could not have made it where he is today without the help and support of others. Another quality of a leader is not only to have a clear vision but to be able to share that vision and inspire others to pursue the same vision and act on it. Dr V himself said, “Two qualities for leadership are to be a visionary and to know execution” (Rubin 149).

Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric Co. said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion. ” Dr. V possessed these qualities of leadership and he not only got strangers involved that shared his vision but also got his own family strongly involved. His extended family visited 1,488 villages to run diagnostic eye camps while other members of his family helped run different hospitals as surgeons themselves. Dr.

V created a dynasty by inspiring others to work towards his vision. According to HR World’s article Top Leadership Qualities, “A leader must be able to communicate his or her vision in terms that cause followers to buy into it. He or she must communicate clearly and passionately, as passion is contagious. ” With a vision as big and grand as that of Dr. V’s, he had to be disciplined and work towards his vision and be able to direct his team toward the same vision. Once the vision is shared, action can then be made together towards the same goal.

It is important not to undervalue the qualities and characteristics that are shown by great leaders after a vision has been created and expressed. It could be argued that the action that takes place after the vision is just as important as the vision itself. It is then that the courageous steps and risks take place. As HR World describes it, “Action is the mark of a leader. A leader does not suffer “analysis paralysis” but is always doing something in pursuit of the vision, inspiring others to do the same. ” Dr. V’s story can strongly support the fact that a great leader’s journey starts with a great vision.

Courage is definitely needed along this journey; however, the journey can not begin without a vision. Being forward-looking, envisioning, exciting, challenging possibilities, and recruiting others in support of this vision is one of the biggest qualities in a leader. A survey conducted by Kouzes and Posner showed that vision is the single most attribute that distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. The survey was taken by tens of thousands of working class people around the world and questions were asked about qualities sought in a leader as well as qualities sought in a colleague.

No other quality showed such a dramatic difference between a leader and a colleague as vision did. This can pose as a huge challenge for many who aspire to be a manger or a leader in today’s business world because the survey also discussed research on executives work activity and found that only 3% of a typical business leader’s time is spent envisioning and enlisting (Kouzes and Posner 21). These are staggering results when it is the duty of CEO’s and senior executives to be able to envision where the company will be in ten or more years.

The changes and challenges facing today’s business world are calling for visionary leaders, yet the gap between great leaders that possess courage and vision and those that that simply hold the leader title is widening. The Future of our Leaders With the dire need for great leaders in our world today, it is important to understand that one must start with a vision, share that vision and possess courage to follow through with it. As Kouzes and Posner illustrate, “The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.

The only visions that take hold are shared visions…The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: the human connection. ” Great leaders of the past have proven to be courageous visionaries and without these qualities, the great leaders of the future may be few and far between. References Eisenstat, R. A. , Beer, M. , Foote, N. , Fredberg, T. , Norrgren, F. “The Uncompromising Leader. ” Harvard Business Review (July-August 2008): 50-57. Print. Freeman, D. H. “Courageous Leadership. ” Law Journal Newsletters (March 2008). n. pag. Web. Heifetz R. A. , Kania J.

V. , and Kramer, M. R. “Leading Boldly. ” Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2004): 20—31. Print. Heifetz, R. A. , Grashow, A. , and Linsky, M. “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis. ” Harvard Business Review (July-August 2009): 62—69. Print. HR World. “The Top 10 Leadership Qualities. ” HR World. (October 2009). n. pag. Web. Koezes, J. M. and Posner, B. Z. “To Lead, Create a Shared Vision. ” Harvard Business Review (January 2009): 20–21. Print. Lee, G. Courage: The Backbone of Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006. Print. McCain, J. “In Search of Courage. ” Fast Company (September 2004): 51—56. Print.

Nichvalodoff, G. “What is Courageous Leadership? ” Refinery Leadership Partners Inc. n. pag. Web. Palmer, P. J. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. Print. Reardon, K. K. “Courage as a Skill. ” Harvard Business Review (January 2007): 58—64. Print. Rubin, Harriet. “The Perfect Vision of Dr. V. ” Fast Company (February 2001): 146–153. Print. Uhl-Bien, M. and Carsten, M. K. “Being Ethical When the Boss is Not. ” Organizational Dynamics 36. 2 (2007): 187—201. Print. Walton, R. E. “A Vision-Led Approach to Management Restructuring. ” Organizational Dynamics 14 (1986): 5–16. Print.

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