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Special report - Courageous Leadership

Courage is one of the skills that great leaders are deemed to need and perhaps the most important. This report covers the key areas that leaders might want to focus on.

‘Courageous’ is the adjective that politicians use to describe ministerial decisions which they regard as being risky. It’s also the attribute which enabled Frank Baum’s Cowardly Lion to take personal risks. Courage is one of the skills that great leaders are deemed to need and perhaps the most important. Loath as I am to criticise our political leaders, PM Theresa May is seen as a weak leader because of the lack of courage to stick to her principles, whereas President Trump has been accused of many things, but a lack of courage is not normally one of them (Morgen Witzel disagrees with me on this however – see page 6). 

Unfortunately, it does strike me that the most famous leaders in business are those who were perceived as strong leaders and subsequently seen as bullies and cheats, frequently riding roughshod over their colleagues, workforce and their own corporate governance. Many people have stories about the dreadful characteristics that some ‘strong’ business leaders show. They may have made their shareholders money in the short term, but at what cost to those remaining? 

James O’Toole, a management theorist, listed seven skill requirements of great leaders: courage, authenticity, integrity, vision, passion, conviction and persistence. He added: ‘They listen to others, encourage dissenting opinion among their closest advisers, grant ample authority to subordinates and lead by example rather than by power, manipulation or coercion.’ 

According to this theory, a good leader is one who delegates to others, and this does take courage. Winston Churchill commented: ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ David Hopley, a great leader and military man himself, argues similarly in our first article (see page 2) that great leaders empower others to grow and develop. It takes courage to let go of control, but doing so makes leaders better. 

We hope that you enjoy this report. Please email matthew.rideout@icaew.com or robert.russell@icaew.com if you have any comments or suggestions. We would love to hear from you. 

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Comments and suggestions

Robert Russell, Technical Manager, Business and Management Faculty