We make a mistake when we think of leadership as a popularity contest, as a matter of posturing for effect. Still, it is wise for us to pay attention to what people value in a leader. It can help us engage them, help us to inspire them, and help us to round out our set of natural leadership gifts.

Here is an important truth for you to make your own in this arena. Second to expressing kindness and care for their team, leaders are most admired for their courage. This surfaces in surveys and polls consistently. It also is my conclusion after many years of coaching leaders.

The most negative image of a leader is that they have become bureaucratic. They hide behind their desk or a set of excuses, never stepping boldly into action, never risking anything in support of what they say they believe. People visualize them as always primping in the mirror, always careful to manage how they are perceived rather working to become someone genuine and bold. This is death to true leadership impact. No one wants to follow a vain person or a coward.

Yet true courage sets hearts ablaze. I’m thinking of a friend of mine who ran what she described casually as a “sewing company.” I’m not sure I ever knew exactly what this meant. I do know that her firm was successful. It was a huge, comfortable room in which her team sewed just about everything that can be sewed.

I remember asking some of her employees what they liked about my friend, their boss. A few of them said, “her courage.” Frankly, I couldn’t figure out how courage had anything to do with a sewing company. I asked for a story.

It seems that there was a delivery man for one of their suppliers who was always rude and crass in his humor when he was around. The employees dreaded seeing him coming. They described him to me as “nasty.”

Then it happened. My friend the boss found out about this man’s behavior. The next time he appeared, she followed him out to his truck and told him never to come back if he couldn’t clean up his act. I’ve said it here briefly. She took much longer to decapitate the man. And this happened as the whole company looked on.

I can’t tell you what this meant to my friend’s team. Everyone was proud of her. Everyone felt protected, understood, cared for, and defended. My friend didn’t intend anything she did as a tactic. Her response to that delivery man was genuine and fiery. Yet there was hardly anything she could have done to rally her team and infuse joy like her courage at that moment.

I don’t have to tell you that the opposite is also true. Nothing is a cancer on the spirit of a firm like a cowardly, retreating leader.

Take stock. Are you leading courageously? Is there some area in which you are being a coward? Why? Has it happened before? Face it. Deal with it. Get help. Start being the stalwart leader you are capable of being. Your firm is waiting. This is leadership greatness.