Transitions Coaching Blog

Thoughts. Reflections. Intentions.

Human, not heroic: A new view of Courageous Leadership

By Jennifer Tucker, Writer and Content Creator  |  July 8, 2022
Human, not heroic: A new view of Courageous Leadership

Courage, growth, connection, compassion, and curiosity.
These five values are the heartbeat of Transitions Coaching and guide our interactions with each other
and with our clients. Over the next few months, we’re taking a deeper dive into each of our values
to explore how they also emerge in leadership.

I visited a website recently that blasted me with a bold message, front and center on the home page:  The world needs leaders poised to handle anything that comes their way.

When you put it like that, it’s hard not to conjure up images of a “hero,” a leader who many of us might describe as “tough,” “brave,” or “courageous.” But our idea of what courageous leadership is may be outdated—and likely even ineffective—for our organizations today.

Old-fashioned beliefs about how to lead are often inherently INhuman (or, perhaps, super-human).

They focus on command and control over support and development. They favor delivery of hard metrics instead of celebrating intangible contributions. They lean toward punishment—of self and others—rather than encouragement.

While it may once have been useful to think of courageous leaders as those who were physically strongest and most aggressive, those traits are no longer the most relevant or desirable ones in our current context.

We think it’s time for a new perspective on courage, one that starts from a place of vulnerability instead of perfectionism.

Our view of courageous leadership is human, not heroic.

With that humanity in mind, we believe that truly courageous leaders are willing to:

Think differently.

We’ve always said that leadership is not for the faint of heart! Today’s workplace is complex, dynamic, and ever-evolving. It challenges us to rethink our familiar ways of seeing and being in the world. For humans, that’s not always easy—but to be an effective leader, it’s necessary.

Our organizations are facing unique challenges, being forced to figure out how to respond to ever-present change and act with greater agility. When we conjure up our courage, we’re able to lead against the grain and identify new solutions to old problems.

Stand up for what they believe in.

Leadership can sometimes be construed as a popularity contest. Yes, it requires trust and respect and even—to some degree—likeability. But there’s a clear difference between the leaders who have successfully “campaigned” for followers and those who are effective because they lead from a place of authenticity.

The Leadership Circle Profile (a tool we often use with our clients) measures “Courageous Authenticity,” which evaluates a leader’s willingness to take a stand, raise difficult topics, and openly deal with issues. When we’re courageously authentic, we lead from our values and with our principles.

Engage in self-exploration.

A leader’s effectiveness is contingent on so many factors—their unique knowledge and experience, the people who support them, the environment in which they work. But perhaps the most important thing influencing any leader’s effectiveness is their understanding of self.

The internal impacts the external, and that’s why it’s so important for leaders to embrace a full understanding of their strengths and challenges. It takes courage to engage in that type of self-reflection, but when we do, we can lead from a more genuine place and with greater humility.


Let’s face it—on one level or another, we all harbor a fear of failure. It can stem from many things, whether it’s an actual let-down you experienced in the past (and would rather not repeat) or an imagined consequence of not living up to your own or others’ expectations.

As leaders, we don’t necessarily need to embrace failure. We simply need to accept that it’s unrealistic to expect every mission we embark on to be a success and be willing to recognize the lessons in our less-than-perfect attempts. Courageous leaders are able to persevere through and resist giving up, even in the face of internal or external criticism.

Given all the preconceived notions of what courage is (some of which we’ve hopefully changed your perspective on now!), it pays to also understand what courage is not.

Courageous leaders are not fearless. They are not unflappable. They are not Teflon, and they are not immune to the threats that face organizations today. These are outdated, unrealistic, and maybe even foolhardy ways of thinking.

We would challenge anyone clinging to these perceptions to reconsider whether their view of courage is more irresponsible than it is brave. We can’t put it any better than author James R. Detert did in his recent article for Harvard Business Review: “It’s foolish, not courageous, to lead a hiking group toward a bear that will obviously kill you all for no good reason.”

You can learn more about Transitions Coaching and meet our team here. And if our values align with your own and you’re interested in exploring more of the tools, resources, and support we have to offer, reach out to us today.