In my experience, the single biggest challenge organizations face is the lack of courage.

Most executives do a good job of figuring out what needs to be done to improve their organization's success. Many lack the guts to make the hard decisions. They lack the courage of their own convictions.

The job of executives is to make decisions in the midst of incomplete information. There is never enough time to gather all information needed to make a decision. As a result, executives must have the courage to make hard decisions and act as if they truly believe in them even though they don't know if the decision is right.

The lack of courage is often due to fear.

The nature of leadership is being visible. Because you are visible, people can see your vulnerabilities and hurt you. We fear being hurt, so we go with the popular, easy and wrong decisions. We escape doing what's lonely, difficult and right, because we are scared to death.

But courage is not the lack of fear, it is the triumph over it.

Courage can be developed. It is a long process, but mental tools can help make it a bit less painful. In Unlocking Us, Brené Brown talks about the "Fucking First Time (FFT)" which refers to anything we do for the first time. The goal is to learn how to stay standing in the midst of feeling unsure and uncertain by doing the following:

  • First, identify and name the FFT, for example, "I'm really anxious about firing this person."
  • Second, we can put things into perspective. We've all experienced uncomfortable feelings before. You might not have fired someone, but you have felt anxious, stressed and afraid many times. In every other circumstance, the feelings eventually went away.
  • Finally, we can use this perspective to reality check our expectations. This is going to suck, but knowing this we can move forward with the idea that nothing stays "first" forever.

Decisions are hard for multiple reasons: there are no easy answers or recipes, emotions are at odds with your logic and you might not be able to ask for help without showing weakness. Remember that every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous. With the easy decision, you get stuck with the fear, unable to reap the benefits of what you should have done.