Jeff Fishel, MSHA, NRP, above, is the Director of EMS for Delaware County EMS in Ohio. (Photo by James D. DeCamp)
I was recently exercising and listening to a podcast when the guest was asked: “What is one thing all leaders must have?” Her response was simple: “Courage,” she replied. “Leadership takes courage.” The guest was a very impressive figure. She was a female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when the corporate world was most assuredly ruled by males. It took courage to get there and to continue to enact change in that environment.
I want to focus on what the speaker said about courage. It sparked something inside me. Leadership is a process, not a title, and that process is what takes courage. Why does it take courage? The process of leadership involves constant improvement and change. Change involves vulnerability. It also involves opening yourself to critique and ridicule. Change requires a leader to stand firm in the face of opposition and involves the ability communicate and articulate. All of this requires courage and what I would add to the guest’s comments is that it equally takes resilience. You must have the ability to recover quickly and adapt to feedback, critique and ridicule.
Constant improvement also requires courage. One cannot improve unless willing to be evaluated, receive feedback, or be critiqued. Leaders will be critiqued by those above and below them. I challenge leaders to welcome, accept and embrace it. And most of all, actually learn and grow from it. In doing so, this requires humility and the ability to be humble.
There are different types of courage. I believe it takes courage to serve our country and I believe it takes courage to be a leader of a Fortune 500 company. However, I am not trying to compare those two as if they are the same. I am using the term to refer to a person’s emotions and convictions. Being courageous challenges leaders emotionally.
How does a leader put this kind of courage into motion? Through communication with constant and solicited feedback from those around them. Receive constant input and encourage constant collaboration and inclusion. I challenge leaders to embrace the critics. A leader will always be judged. How one responds, adjusts and improves based on critique is most important. Leadership is a process, a process that takes courage.
We have leadership training at my agency three times a year. At a past training we had a sheriff speak on the topic of change. Like myself, this sheriff is a constant student of leadership. However, he is much further along in his development as his career spans over three decades, and his passion for leadership education dates back before my career even began. I wrote this article a few days prior to his speech and I was interested in how similar our thoughts on this are. He shared one thing that really resonated with me and I feel compelled to share myself. He said for all of the stress, critique and challenges that come with leadership (and they only get tougher the further you advance), it is an honor and a privilege, and you should be thankful every single day for holding a position of leadership.