Unwavering courage based upon knowledge of self and of one’s occupation. No follower wishes to be dominated by a leader who lacks self-confidence and courage. No intelligent follower will be dominated by such a leader for very long. – Napoleon Hill
[This is the first in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]
Courage is fundamental to achievement and success. David Byrd describes three types of courage: physical, intellectual, and emotional. He rates the last as being the most critical of our creative powers in counterbalancing apathy (described as “a natural human instinct, common to us all, that consistently encourages us to seek a comfort zone in which nothing ever changes”). Note that Napoleon Hill speaks of unwavering courage. This type weathers all storms, and we know that storms WILL hit us in business (and life in general).
Mr. Byrd points out this interesting fact: none of us naturally possess emotional courage. Therefore, we must all develop it. To do so, we first must understand what it is. Here’s one working definition of emotional courage:
“Your personal conditioned capacity to respond with positive actions rather than negative beliefs to all life events.”
From the above, conditioning is the key. Jennifer Lehr says this requires embracing all aspects of our lives, positive and negative, and developing methods for emphasizing the former and changing our responses to the latter. The main ingredients for crafting such changes are a desire to improve our sense of well-being and a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals. Yet, how does one go about developing this type of courage? What steps must you take to better condition yourself for handling the ups and downs of life and business? David Byrd suggests four steps:
- Believe in your potential
- Develop a healthy attitude towards mistakes, failures and negative outcomes
- Break out of negative past conditioning by exercising your power of choice, and
- Redesign your attitudes by displacement
Believe in Your Potential
We all have virtually limitless untapped potential. The main reason we don’t tap into this vast reserve is our belief. Without belief in our own ability to achieve the life we desire, we’re forced to accept the life others offer us. As a business owner, you know what I mean. If you’re an entrepreneur working out of your home and offering a service (something intangible), then you really understand. That’s because if you had a penny for every time people asked when you were getting a “real job,” if you’re still doing that “thing,” or jokingly asked if you’re “rich yet,” you’d have all your financial problems solved for life! I know; I’ve been there. When people say those things, no matter how well-meaning, they attack your belief in yourself. Many times we hear such (potentially) demoralizing things from the people closest to us, the ones we expect to have our back. It’s at this point that unwavering courage kicks in. Your belief in your potential allows any negative talk to roll off your back. To help develop that belief, Mr. Byrd suggests listing your top five personal strengths, starting with the greatest. Then ask a trusted friend to review the list to confirm and/or add to it. You can now focus on doing more of those things you do well, and develop a plan to strengthen and improve those problem areas. With every little win, your belief in your own ability (and potential) increases.
Develop a Healthy Attitude towards Mistakes, Failures and Negative Outcomes
Failure is a part of life. A baby learning to walk is an enjoyable study in failure leading to success. We’re entertained, not just by how “cute” they are, but by their tenacity. It’s obvious that child doesn’t have a problem with failing. He or she simply gets back up and tries again! We can learn a lot from children. The subtitle to John Maxwell’s famous and influential work Failing Forward is Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success. In the first chapter, he quotes J.M. Barrie, who said: “We are all failures – at least, all the best of us are.” The message is to develop a new view of failure. As the book states, “there is one major difference between average people and achieving people.” That difference is how they view failure. Failing at something is common. Viewing yourself as a failure is a problem.
We cannot control all our circumstances. What we can control is how we react to those circumstances. Things happen in life, some of them good, some bad. Yet, those circumstances don’t define us. What we do in reaction to them does. If we react negatively, this indicates our internal belief about ourselves. If you’ve addressed the matter of believing in your potential, then you should have a positive, healthy view of who you are. This belief lets you respond to negative circumstances with positive actions. That is the key to changing your attitude about the things happening around you. Since you can’t control the circumstances, learn to control yourself.
Break Out of Negative Past Conditioning through Exercise of Choice
Life is all about the choices you make. The better the quality of your choices, the better the quality of your life. Choices influence the way you think, and the way you think affects your attitude. Thankfully, you can control your choices, and therefore control your thinking. As Mr. Byrd puts it, “our thoughts are simply choices that design our futures, and we are 100% in control of those thoughts.”
We constantly face challenges in life. Will we let those overwhelm us? Will we allow them force us to settle for less than we know we deserve? Or will we choose to keep moving forward towards our goals? The great thing about choice is that, at any time, we can choose to make ours better. Many are familiar with the story of Jonah. This prophet of God received an assignment that he frankly didn’t like. He had to deliver judgment messages to Nineveh. That scared the snot out of him! The Assyrians weren’t the nicest bunch. Nineveh earned the well-deserved nickname “the city of blood.” So he chose to ditch the assignment. In fact, he tried to run as far in the opposite direction as possible! That was a bad choice. It lead to his being caught in what was probably a Katrina-like storm at sea, being tossed overboard while said storm raged on, then being swallowed by a huge fish. He was in the fish for three days (not something I ever hope to include on my résumé), and then vomited out onto land. At this point, he learned his lesson. He made a new choice and finally accepted and completed his assignment. What was the result of his choice? An entire city avoided destruction.
We may not receive a challenging divine assignment, but we often face tough choices on our chosen (and what many feel is a God-given) path. Frankly, we’re not always going to make good ones. But, once we recognize a choice as bad, we can act to make it better, as did Jonah. That’s a pretty good deal, when you think about it.
Redesign Your Attitudes by Displacement
Fear is something we all experience. It often causes us to delay or procrastinate. After all, if we don’t act, we can’t be at fault, right? And if we never get started with something, we can’t fail. Such rationalization is common. Unfortunately, if you never act, it means you never try. That does prevent you from failing in the attempt; it also means you can never succeed.
We can’t simply change our negative thoughts and attitudes. We replace them. Remember, emotional courage isn’t an inborn quality. Negativity is par for the course. So to get rid of negative thoughts, we must replace them with positive ones. The best analogy I’ve heard is trying to get dirty water out of a glass. If we could simply pour it out, that would be great! But that’s not how it works with our thoughts and attitudes. The only way to get rid of the negative influences (represented by the dirty water) is to keep pouring in clean water until the dirt is gone. This is a constant process since negativity is part of our nature. Thus, the things we read and watch, the people we hang around, and the conversations we have (including those we have with ourselves) should pour clean, uplifting ideas and thoughts into us, thus displacing any negativity we encounter.
You CAN Develop Unwavering Courage!
What Napoleon Hill wrote decades ago is true today. If you work diligently on your belief in your potential, develop a healthy attitude towards mistakes, properly exercise your power of choice, and displace negative attitudes with positive ones, you will develop the unwavering courage necessary for an effective, successful leader.
How would you rate your emotional courage? Would you describe it as unwavering? If not, what are some things you’re doing or plan to do so that things change?
NOTE: I’m not an affiliate marketer for any of the books mentioned or pictured above. They’re just good books, ones I think you’ll benefit from reading. That doesn’t mean affiliate marketing is bad; it simply means I have no stake in the sale of these particular books.
 David Byrd, The Tripping Point in Leadership – Overcoming Organizational Apathy (Waco, Pilot Communications Group, Inc., 2008), 12, 67, 68.
 Byrd, 69.
 Byrd, 70.
 Byrd, 71-76.
 Byrd, 72.
 John Maxwell, Failing Forward – Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000), 1.
 Maxwell, 8.
 Byrd, 72-73.
 Byrd, 74.
- Failure – Why You Should Welcome It (kerwynhodge.wordpress.com)
- Why Emotional Courage is Vital to Effective Leadership (ezinearticles.com)
- courage is a muscle. build it. (eyesopen99.wordpress.com)
- How to Become Immune to Injurious Thought (abeyln.wordpress.com)
- Five Traits To Living A Heroic Life (ryushoblog.wordpress.com)
- “Failing Forward” shows that failure is actually a good thing (teresaedmond.wordpress.com)
- Manage Your Mindset (kerryneeds.blogspot.com)