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Mike McLaughlin

Braver Leaders


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We need braver leaders and here is how to get them

Nurturing the traits of strength, growth, courage and foresight in our leaders is crucial

The world is facing unprecedented challenges. The economy is faltering, the environment is being exploited, climate change is upon us, a mindless wars are raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, and we are facing both mental and physical health crises. 

Why we need bravery now

In the midst of all these catastrophes, we have also seen great compassion, selflessness, decency and bravery from many ‘ordinary’ people - even though most were not involved in life-or-death decision-making or taking actions that would constitute bravery on the world stage.

Braver leaders take time to reflect, to consider the nature of their role, and why are they doing what they are doing

The individuals within society, organisations or teams are therefore where the real change begins. They may never appear on TV, but those who strive to lead in everyday life really make a difference, often a big difference, by doing smaller things bravely and consistently. However, in view of global events, we need even more people to step up to the plate and strive to be even braver leaders.

To guide their braver journey, we have brought together a framework of eight interconnected developmental areas:

1. Awareness

Braver leaders take time to reflect, to consider the nature of their role, and why are they doing what they are doing. They think about their blind spots and ask for feedback from trusted friends, colleagues, coaches, mentors, and other critical friends who can tell them things ‘as they are’.

2. Generating desire motivation and commitment

Once braver leaders are truly aware of what they are there to do (beyond what it says on the badge), they consider their goals and explore their current and desired future states – each in turn. They look to see where the gaps are between where they are and where they should be going. Then they ensure they have the ‘fuel’ (the desire, motivation and commitment) to get there.

3. Challenging mindsets

Braver leaders tackle new challenges by ensuring they challenge their existing beliefs (and those of others around them) so they can unfreeze any fixed mindsets. Mindsets are our points of view about the threats or opportunities available as we encounter new situations or problems.

Accumulated beliefs, experiences or memories can hold us back (fixed mindset) or they can drive us forward (growth mindset). Braver leaders develop a growth mindset, through determination, resilience, and motivation.

4. Practice emotional intelligence

The impact of strong emotions on their own and others’ behaviours is something braver leaders are able to understand and regulate. This ability involves them identifying feelings and discriminating between them in order to guide thinking and action. Kindness is also important for emotionally intelligent leaders since it is connected to the perceptive verbal, and non-verbal, expression of emotions.

Braver leaders use different clarification processes to increase their understanding of what is important to their lives and businesses

5. Generating personal capacity

Braver leaders always work on themselves first so that they can help to develop others through coaching, mentoring and, importantly, leading by example. To work on themselves effectively they regularly recharge both mentally and physically. Mentally, it is important that leaders find meaning in what they do in order to make the world seem more coherent and less complex.

The sense of coherence ensures resilience, lessens perceptions of powerlessness and reduces health problems. Similarly, physical activity helps revive the body and the mind and improves stress and self-esteem.

6. Exploring values

Braver leaders use different clarification processes to increase their understanding of what is important to their lives and businesses. They identify and name what they value and examine whether their current values are aligned with what they want to achieve in the future.

One leader shared how he found it easy for his ‘future self’ to be shaped by other people’s agendas. But he found that by recognising his own values he became more aligned with them and found it easier to lead.

7. Regulating the ego – ego lite 

Another key component of being a braver leader is ‘dialling down the ego’. Regulating the ego helps leaders be humble. It helps them consider whether their behaviours tend towards the kind of self-aggrandising that both pollutes decision-making and disenfranchises others. Braver leaders always assume there are others who know more than they do about some things and so understand when to accede to their wisdom. 

Interventions that are useful here include mindfulness, which involves always bringing the mind back to the present moment and focusing on observing emotional and bodily responses. In this way, braver leaders can distance themselves from their own unhelpful responses and look at interactions more objectively.

8. Doing the right thing

For braver leaders, the ability to do the right thing in a situation is a fundamental problem because there is seldom a totally right or wrong resolution. They find it is better to keep an alert mind, increase understanding and look for consensus instead of just going ahead with what seems right.

A quick check against a variety of influences: values, morals, ethics, motives and timing, gives braver leaders a better chance of balancing options and ultimately doing the right thing. 

They think long term, they don’t sacrifice the mental and physical health of others to satisfy a myopic or egotistical lust for profit

The braver leader in action

Braver leaders are those who create a psychologically safe space at work because they are focused on developing others, just as they continue to develop themselves. It is likely that they promote a coaching culture and an emotionally nourishing environment. They practice a ‘profit by all means, but not by any means’ mindset.

In other words, they think long term, they don’t sacrifice the mental and physical health of others to satisfy a myopic or egotistical lust for profit. Because of their cumulative actions, braver leaders are also able to consider their true legacy, understand that they are here for only a brief period of time, to be remembered for the good they do, and how they performed during their short tenure as stewards of the planet.

Mike McLaughlin and Elaine Cox are leadership development experts and co-authors of Braver Leaders in Action: Personal & Professional Development for Principled Leadership.

Interested in this topic? Read Seven leadership development areas the C-Suite should not ignore.

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Mike McLaughlin


Read more from Mike McLaughlin

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