The Most Critical Leadership Skill For The Coming Decade

A year ago, I had the incredible privilege of training with Dr. Brené Brown to become a certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator.

Brené is a research professor at the University of Houston, and she and her team recently completed a 7-year study on leadership with Rice, Kellogg and Wharton schools of business. They started by talking to 150 C-suite executives around the world -- CEOs and CFOs of major multinationals -- asking them a simple question: What is the single most important characteristic for future leaders?

The answer that came back was absolutely unequivocal, no close seconds: the No. 1 characteristic our leaders need is courage.

So here are three things the research tells us about courage:

Number one: The single biggest indicator of a lack of courage is the inability to have difficult conversations. Uncomfortable conversations take courage.

Number two: The single most accurate measure of courage is our willingness to lean into vulnerability.



Most of us associate vulnerability with weakness -- it's the No. 1 myth about vulnerability. But the actual definition of vulnerability is risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure.

Think of a time when you saw someone doing something courageous. It can be someone you know, someone famous, something recent, something from a long time ago.

Now ask yourself: What role did vulnerability play in that moment? Was that person taking a risk? Facing uncertainty? Opening themselves up to emotional exposure?

You cannot have courage without vulnerability. If there is no risk, uncertainty or emotional exposure, then what you’re doing doesn’t require courage at all.

Number three: Courage is contagious. But you have to ask yourself what price you’re willing to pay.

One of my favorite moments of courage came from a man called Ed Stack. Ed is the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company sells sports gear, camping gear, workout gear… and guns.

You might remember that in February 2018, there was a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen kids were killed, 17 more injured.

After the shooting, Ed learned that the shooter had bought a gun at a Dick’s store. It was a shotgun, which wasn’t used in the shooting -- but Ed had the sickening realization that the shooter could have bought the guns for the shooting at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Ed describes himself as a pretty stoic guy, but he says that as he sat there watching the news, he hadn’t cried that much since his mother passed away.

He went into his management team that Monday, started to read a statement he had written, and got so emotional that he couldn’t get through it. His chief of staff had to actually take the piece of paper from his hand and finish reading it for him.

Risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure.

Ed made the call that his company was going to stop selling automatic assault weapons. But he didn’t stop there. He then had his company destroy $5 million worth of inventory, because, as he says, if you don’t think it’s right to sell these weapons, the only conscionable thing to do is to destroy the inventory. Otherwise you’re just putting the guns on the street in a roundabout way.

Ed reckons the move cost the company $250 million in lost sales. He says he doesn’t regret a penny. As my friend Geoff says, values aren’t values until they cost you.

When Ed made this move, he was alone. But because he was willing to take a stand, Kroger followed, and then Walmart, and last September 145 chief executives wrote to the Senate asking its members to pass sensible gun control laws.

Courage is contagious.

So, three things to remember about courage: Uncomfortable conversations take courage, you cannot have courage without vulnerability, and courage is contagious.

And isn’t that last one the best news of all?

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