Insights from research and leaders on aspects of leadership, organisations and wellbeing

Leading with Courage

Dear <<First Name>>

Last month's newsletter introduced the idea of Leading with Courage in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous - the subject of my recent Master of Applied Positive Psychology Capstone paper.  What follows is my recent submission to the International Positive Psychology Association, for consideration for presentation at their upcoming conference in Montreal in July.

Recent highly publicised corporate scandals have called for more positive forms of leadership that will restore confidence in all levels of leadership (Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing & Peterson, 2008) and restore confidence, hope and optimism in associates (Avolio & Gardner, 2005).  Research indicates that authentic leadership is the basis for all forms of positive leadership and will successfully meet these needs (Luthans & Avolio, 2003; Walumbwa et al., 2008). 

Realistically however, many workplaces do not support authentic leadership.  A competitive marketplace, stakeholder expectations and destructive organisational politics are likely to hinder authentic leadership behaviour.  Discussions with clients across many industries suggests that what is needed is the courage to lead authentically despite the challenges and tensions that exist. 

Both increased courage and authentic leadership have demonstrated leader, associate and organisational benefits.  Courage correlates with higher levels of leader performance (Gentry et al., 2013; Palanski, Cullen, Gentry & Nichols, 2015; Sosik, Gentry & Chun, 2012), business results (O’Connell, 2009) and organisational integrity (Adams-Ali, 2014).  At an organisational level, authentic leadership has resulted in elevated, sustained performance of the leader and associates (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; George & Sims, 2007; Wang, Sui, Luthans, Wang & Wu, 2014).  Given the evidence linking courage to wellbeing (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Ryan & Deci, 2000), it is expected that a focus on courage will provide additional positive impact on leader workplace wellbeing with further impact on organisational success (Cameron, Dutton & Quinn, 2003).

Despite these encouraging findings, courage has received limited empirical attention, especially in terms of workplace interventions (Pury et al., 2014).  Based on this identified workplace need and gap in positive psychology, a measurable, outcomes-based program has been designed to build courage in senior and executive leaders. The program comprises three steps:
  1. Preparing to be Courageous includes a reflection exercise for participants, exploring past situations in which they were courageous.
  2. Exploring Courage involves a workshop that is emergent in nature resulting in largely, user-generated content (Darling, Guber, Smith & Stiles, 2016).  The predominant method will be narrative learning which involves sense-making through story-telling (Clark, 2010). 
  3. Being Courageous involves exercises that aim to embed and sustain learning.
The program will occur over nine months, as leadership development is longitudinal in nature (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Strum & McKee, 2014). To assess the impact of the program, participants will complete measures of workplace courage, authentic leadership and workplace wellbeing at weeks 1 and 39.  It is anticipated that each of these measures will show positive shifts in behaviour at this time.

This program, designed to build courage, provides an opportunity to enable and embed authentic leadership behaviour.  While courage is not the only behaviour required of leaders, it is an essential leadership behaviour for success and may be the one which provides most support in these challenging times.

I believe that courage has an increasingly important role to play in enabling our leaders to lead.  Please don't hesitate to call or email me if you’d like to discuss this further.

A list of the references cited in this newsletter can be downloaded by following this link

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