The Leader’s Mettle and the Courage to Create


I know that the root of the word courage comes from the French word “coeur” which means “heart,” but I think courage must come from the stomach as well. When talking to my clients, and to myself, I think of it this way: do you have the stomach to follow your heart? When the signals are unclear, your team is skeptical, the pressure is mounting and you are filled with doubt?

As a leader, you have a requirement to take your company into the future, one that may look radically different from the present circumstances. After all your due diligence, the future goal is agreed upon. Plans are made. Your strategic initiatives are underway and your team is psyched. You are off to a great start. But, as any movie plot line will show you, just around the corner lurks danger, disappointment, disruption, and possibly even despair. Even with all of your best intelligence, highest intentions, milestones and measurements, the path you set upon will never be straight forward. It can’t be, because the creative process is never straight forward.

Artists welcome mistakes

We know from modern x-rays that the old masters, like Rembrandt, worked and reworked their canvases. Early drafts of novels make for fascinating reading. Did you know that The Great Gatsby was first titled The High-Bouncing Lover? The playwright Moss Hart said, “Plays are never written. They are rewritten.” And in theatre, Samuel Beckett reminds us, rehearsals are specifically designed as the time when you get to “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Only Mozart, it seems, was able to go directly from his thoughts to the page. But hey, he was Mozart.

There is much more permission for creative meanderings in the world of art then there is in the world of industry because it seems so much is a stake. But is this realistic? I mean, how many Mozarts are out there running companies?

So your once-clear direction is now stymied. What do you do? As more knowledge is gained from each milestone, course corrections clearly need to be taken. Perhaps just a small tweak. Perhaps the planned direction needs to be abandoned. Or perhaps the appropriate decision is to stay the course. Your team is grumbling. Your stalwart allies are having meetings behind closed doors. Do you, “O Captain! My Captain,” (another highly edited poem) have the courage to make a decision?

Just as it is important to understand that no strategic path or plan is going to unfold perfectly, it is important to understand that confusion and doubt are not enemies to the creative process. Doubting is not a sign of weakness, nor is it a sign that you should give up. And blind conviction is just as bad as having no conviction at all. Rollo May, in The Courage to Create says, “People who claim to be absolutely convinced that their stand is the only right one are dangerous.”

So here, he says, is the tricky part: “Commitment is healthiest when it is not without, but in spite of doubt.” This is where courage comes in; making the decision in spite of fear and uncertainty. This is leadership.

When a difficult situation arises and an important decision is required, try this series of questions to assess the situation and chart a course of action.

•Gather facts. And don’t shy away from facts that are upsetting or feel like bad news.

•Recognize all of your emotional responses for what they are. Some feel good and some don’t. They are real sensations but they are not facts.

•Surround yourself with trusted advisors, people who agree and, more important, those who disagree with you.

•Separate the facts in the circumstance from the assumptions. Be clear about the differences.

•Don’t avoid difficult conversations. Most often, they are the most productive.

•Go for a walk.

•Get quiet. Calm your emotions. Listen deeply for inner guidance.

•Don’t delegate. Respond. Be responsible.

Repeat this process as often as necessary. And remember:

“To live into the future means to leap into the unknown and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent.” – Rollo May, The Courage to Create, 1975

About the Author: Gifford Booth, co-founder and CEO at The TAI Group, has spent the past 30 years guiding business leaders in leadership and personal effectiveness, focusing on changing culture and creating effective teams. Visit The TAI Group, like us on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter @TheTAIGroup.