As you arrive at the leadership meeting, a sick feeling starts to grow—again, the seats are arranged in a DSC01636circle around a solitary chair. One of your colleagues is about to be bullied. Time seems frozen as the unlucky victim is herded to the chair, ridiculed, informed that his department is gone. You think, This has to stop…but…

This really happened in an organization. And no one spoke up, despite everyone in the room being a high-level leader. Is your reaction, “What could they do without losing their own jobs?” “Positional power is everything.” First time around, being too shocked to do something is understandable. But when such actions repeat themselves? Someone needed to remember that there truly is courage in numbers. And as the Cowardly Lion said (in the book…), “…life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage.”

Less dramatic examples of lack of courage in leadership abound to such a degree that we’re almost used to the excuses put forward rather than admittance of cowardice. In ARC Leadership, by Richard Boston, a book published just last year, he points out that being Authentic and Responsible, two behaviors frequently cited as desirable in leaders, isn’t all that hard unless the situation also requires Courage—as in when a colleague is being bullied.

No leader wants to be hypocritical, irresponsible and cowardly, but think how people hide behind the first two. You can be “authentic” by adhering to a principle such as following chain of command. You can be “responsible” after the fact by staying silent and then claiming, “I take full responsibility” when things have calmed down. To see the power of combining these behaviors, Boston asks you to frame situations via three questions (p. 184):

  • Authentic: “To what extent am I being true to myself, genuine in my interactions and acting in accordance with my beliefs?”
  • Responsible: “To what extent does my appreciation and prioritization of my responsibilities optimize my contribution to the sustained success of the people and things around me?”
  • Courageous: “What does this situation demand of me that I’m afraid to step up to?”

When the bullying starts, or some other dilemma arises, honest answers to all three of these questions would require every leader in the room to speak up. If you know your beliefs, understand the total extent of your responsibilities, you will know when you need to find the courage to step up.