Aside

Conviction vs. Courage

Which leader are you: the one with conviction or the one with courage?

All our lives, we are taught that leaders are compelling people who create
confidence and belief just by the way they stand tall, direct towards a
vision, and show conviction. We will, the thinking goes, follow that leader
to the ends of the earth. The thinking is that we don¹t want to follow a
squeamish leader; we follow the one who knows and is ready to lead us there.

While all that might be true for an earlier era; the current situation might
warrant a change of the ³truth² around leadership.

In nearly 20 years of helping companies figure out new markets to go into,
launching products, or defending against a big-ass competitor, what I know
is this: issues that stop us from being successful are rarely clear and
concrete. When the company¹s problems are tough (and interesting problems
are all tough) the issue is rarely stupidity. Rather, it¹s usually
blindness. Very often, no one has the entire context to see an issue in all
its complexity ‹ and therefore we don¹t know how to solve it. We are blind
in not knowing what we don¹t know. There is too much complexity, and too
many moving parts that are known to many distributed players.

So in this case, we don¹t need a leader who ³knows² it all already. We need
the one willing to ask many questions, to be okay ³seeming stupid², to
engage all of us in solving the problem at hand, the one willing to tell the
truth about what is broken, the one who respects all the voices in the room
because in that divergence of ideas is the magic. In other words, I don¹t
need conviction during the tough times; I need courage. Courage to ask,
courage to question, courage to not know.

Risk the act of not-knowing, because in that act is courage. And people will
follow you not because you appear strong but because you are strong.

5 Responses:

  1. Anonymous. October 4, 2010 at 7:09 pm  |  

    Yep, makes sense assuming that the leader breeds a team with the courage to answer, tell, share and be transparent.You can have all the curiosity and wonder in a leader and still go nowhere if you’ve established a FUD culture across your management team. Courage becomes conviction when you know the team you ask questions of has folded mentally. At that point it’s just you, your stiffer upper lip and the horizon. Oh, and that rudderless ship you want to know everything about.

    Reply
  2. Nilofer Merchant. October 4, 2010 at 9:51 pm  |  

    It’s a two way street right? If people in the organization don’t speak up then the leader never asks and if the leader never asks (and waits for the answer), the situation never changes. And the cost of that is HUGE — companies fail, products suck, brands fail to deliver. Suckdom is the cost. We’ve gotta change it. And the change begins with us (as Ghandi would say) — how we each come to it…

    Reply
  3. oleg_tumarkin. October 4, 2010 at 11:55 pm  |  

    Leadership is situational. Sometimes it is about conviction. Sometimes it is about the courage. Most of the time it is about knowing if it is time for one or for the other.

    Reply
  4. oleg_tumarkin. October 4, 2010 at 11:55 pm  |  

    I am really enjoying your blog and want to encourage you to keep writing.

    Reply
  5. Nilofer Merchant. October 5, 2010 at 12:22 am  |  

    Thanks Omar – and you’re right. I just see how the Courage thing is not taught/understood/lived but I often see coaches, etc focusing leaders on having more conviction. We do need both.

    Reply

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