Ron Heifetz writes that “attention is the currency of leadership.” And Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner say, “credibility is the currency of leadership.” I agree with my friends and mentors that leaders pay attention and they build up their credibility for when they’ll need to spend it down. But perhaps “courage” is the golden currency of leadership! And the paradoxical truth about courage is this: It is a currency that is inexhaustible, under one special condition: you gather it up and spend it!
In D.C. in the past couple weeks we have had a chance to watch some Everyday Leaders spending from their supply of Courage Currency. I don’t know any of them, other than what I’ve read. But I’ll bet whatever credibility currency I have, that this is not the first time they’ve drawn on their courage accounts and it won’t be the last. I’d suggest it comes from practiced spending and that their efforts will increase their own supply of courage, and also the supplies of their children, colleagues, staffs, and maybe you and me. I believe they will keep on spending the Courage Currency.
Consider that one bureaucrat somewhere in D.C. filed a whistleblower action. One toot on his or her whistle, through a memo they sent to the Inspector General, has generated an enormous historical moment for America. Now we have to have the courage to ask: What does our Constitution mean? What is leadership? How do we balance the means and the ends? How shall our branches of government and our rule of law function? If we stop being on one side or the other, stop rushing to the endgame, and just appreciate where we are, don’t we say “hell yes?!”
One person, one Everyday Leader, supported by a law that protects such a person of conscience, can call our highest official to account. Courageous senators like Republicans Grassley (who wrote the law), Thune, and Blunt have risen above partisanship to support the rule of law. Do any of us think for one second that could happen under Putin, Li Keqiang, Erdogan, MBS, Kim Jong Un? As Lord Acton said, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” so how awesome to have checks on that power!
In all of my little moments of courage, there were observers who would say I crossed that fine line between courage and stupidity (like the time I stood up in church to protect a dear friend from unfair attack from the pulpit). They’d say I wandered into the barren land of futility or a dangerous state of arrogance. I’ve embarrassed some friends and angered some foes when I’ve launched my little “truth to power” moments. But I hope for one thing and know two more. I hope I encouraged people to think, challenged those in authority, and was on more of a sacred mission than an ego trip.
I know two things are true: I’m still here. As my friend Ken Montgomery says, “no one has ever died of embarrassment.” And, I am less afraid than ever to gather up my Courage Coins and spend them on what seems right.
How is your supply? You have to spend with courage to gain courage, and thus
Lead with your best self!