I was watching a series on Netflix this past week when I heard words that echoed what was already circulating in my soul. In a fine series called The Liberator, a sergeant says to a terrified soldier, “Fear is a response. Courage is a decision.”
I couldn’t agree more and I want to apply this sentiment to your leadership.
We speak of great figures in history as though they were naturally courageous, as though they came from the womb with the deposit of courage that defined their lives. It isn’t true. What happened is that they came to embrace ideals that then led them to make vital decisions before the moment courage was required.
Notice the progression. They held certain beliefs. Based on those beliefs they determined, in advance, that in certain circumstances they would behave in certain ways. Then, when the right moment arose, they responded with fierce courage. Why? Because they had already decided they would.
I know that we hear stories of the common man answering a sudden challenge with courage. The woman walking her dog rushes into the house that is on fire to save lives. A grandfather jumps into a river to save a child. A grandmother drives a thief from her home. These examples are definitely to be celebrated, but they are rare. The courage that drives most major events is courage set in motion in advance.
This applies to huge matters like war and less historic matters like handling the tough things in your firm. You have some core values. You envision a future crisis. You determine in advance how you will behave when dangerous or damaging things come. That is courage.
Let me take a small example from my own life. I’m a pretty big guy physically and I believe my eternal state is well settled. So, I’ve already decided that if I’m ever in an active shooter situation, armed or unarmed, that I’m going to charge the shooter. Now, I hope his never happens. Yet if it does, I’m going. It’s because I believe the words “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Now, if I ever do this, live or die, folks will say I was courageous. Yet it will be courage decided years before and based on certain truths I’ve built my life upon.
That’s how courage is. You decide in advance that you’ll step in front of danger for your spouse. You decide in advance that a leader does the hard things in his or her firm and doesn’t pass difficult tasks on to others. You do this because of what you believe in advance.
I’m saying all this because while good days are not too far down the road, a hard season stands between us and that time. You may have some tough things to deal with. Decide now, based on your core values—the ones that elevate you and make your life exceptional—that you will be courageous, valiant, even heroic.
In fact, I urge to you talk this out with your nearest friends and associates. Identify your core values. What beliefs define your life and leadership? What do you believe that would compel you to take a bullet—literally and figuratively—for those you serve with? Decide this in advance. Settle it. This will set your heart at peace and make you exceptional.