Real leaders say 'Let's go!'

NOVEMBER 20 ― I recently attended an Outward Bound programme in Lumut.

It was meant to take you away from modern distractions, comfort, so you can focus on their strengths.

Focus on what makes you, you.

Phones, wallets, books and magazines were taken away. You were made to wash your own dishes, clothes, and fend against mosquitoes that treat you as their buffet.

An excellent place for those with ergophobia (fear of work), technophobia (fear of technology), and great place to desensitise those with entomophobia (fear of insects), nomophobia (fear of not being with your mobile phones), well... to name a few.

The programme was designed, first, to let us appreciate how discipline, perseverance, resilience are necessary in unleashing one's talents and potential as individuals; and second ― to impress on us the importance of harnessing and leveraging on collective strength in completing tasks, for an outcome and result par excellence as opposed to working alone.

While that was the general take home message, there was something else I learned.

I learned the meaning of courage, and how that attribute distinguishes leaders from bosses.

Being brave doesn’t make you courageous.

Until that day, I thought being brave and being courageous were similar.

A bit of research shows that courage is linked historically to the French word cœur which means heart.  Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning “brave, bold.”

Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Or falling to your death taking a selfie from a height to impress your friends.

It is an inherent characteristic and doesn’t involve much thinking. There is a saying that goes, “The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.”

But courage takes something deeper. It takes passion. It takes heart.

Courage is a doctor choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because he/she wants to relieve human suffering. Courage is donating your organs to your loved ones. Courage is speaking up for the oppressed, for the persecuted and maligned.

Courage is a result of mindfulness, one's decision to fight despite fears.

And I realised at the camp that an act of courage isn’t just something that comes from within. It’s derived from the people around me. So while I may be brave enough to climb walls, rocks ― and rappel down hills, it was courage that helped me overcome my fears. And what's more, I found courage to be a manifestation of the trust I had in those around me, in believing that they would not let go of me.

Trust and confidence that they will support my weight, no matter how burdensome I may be (figuratively).

And taking this into the working environment, as brave as I am, I wouldn’t have the courage to make key decisions, policy advances, and stand my ground on principles if it weren’t for the trust I have in the team around me.

The confidence, the faith that they will stand by these decisions agreed on no matter what.

Realising this is life changing, because I realised that the courage I have always attributed as mine, isn’t mine. It's an indication, a reflection and testimony of the collective trust, faith and confidence that I have in those around me, so I can fight, soldier on.

And the need to create a group of people whom you can derive courage from, a group whose building blocks consist of trust, confidence in one another, that must happen before any meaningful success and growth of any organisation can take place.

Before actual improvement in the work place can happen.

Leaders are bosses. But not all bosses are leaders.

Which makes courage an integral part of a good leader.

Because leadership is about responsibility, not authority. And it’s not about being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge.

Being responsible for those in your charge will inadvertently build trust, confidence among the people you lead ― and in turn create followers whom you can derive courage from.

The courage to make difficult decisions. The courage to forge forward. The courage to be different.

The hallmark of a leader.

It is unfortunate that many bosses aren’t leaders. We do what our bosses tell us because of the authority they have. Doesn’t mean we believe and have confidence in them. It begins when we punch in to work, and ends when we punch out.

And even if we do anything outside those hours it won’t be out of our volition, and we do them without conviction. How often have we heard employees say, “It’s not in my job description”?

Leaders on the other hand may not have authority over us, but we carry out their orders with perseverance, resolution and a level of tenacity that matches our trust, confidence and faith in them.

And the teams they run are usually effective, high energy and functional. The results and change they make, sustainable.

 Their ability to draw out these attributes from people are those that salaries cannot match, and job descriptions cannot describe.

Courage and leaders are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other.

It reminds me of a quote by Dave Ramsey, “Bosses push. Leaders pull.”

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.