CODA: Courage

Russ Volckmann

Leadership, as has been preached in these pages for some time now, is about the individual and the context. It is about an emergence of individuals from context to demonstrate leadership. One of the things that I have not focused on very much is the traits or qualities individuals bring to these leader moments. I do not believe that the qualities and traits of leadership can be generalized across contexts.

Also – depending on the issues of the day – different traits and qualities are emphasized in the literature. Fast Company (September 2004) provides an example of this in “The Courage Issue.” Several “leaders” provide their thoughts on the subject of courage. One, Senator John McCain, writes that leaders and executives don’t have enough of it. That as a result, lack of courage leads to greed and selfishness.

McCain cites Churchill who said courage is “The first of human qualities…because it guarantees all the others.” And he goes on to say: “Courage is that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”

When we are thinking about qualities and traits associated with emergent leadership, it is not enough to create a list. It is also important to think about what the implications of one trait are for the manifestation of others. How do they show up in combination and what are the implications of that? And, from an integral perspective, what does it mean for leadership when these traits of the individual show up in relationship with the constellated traits of a culture?

An example of the relationship between individual and context relevant to emergent leadership involves Senator McCain. I wish I could say this scenario was original with me, but it was presented to me by a very influential business leader and Republican. It goes something like this:

George W. wants to be re-elected. He sees Dick Cheney as reducing his chances. But he has already committed to Cheney publicly and it wouldn’t look good to pull back on that commitment. But Cheney’s doctors cooperate and–at the last minute – forbid him to run again for health reasons. Bush, distraught, turns to his new friend and ally – right! – Senator John McCain to be his vice president. McCain’s presence on the ticket will bring drifting Republicans back into the Republican fold and attract Undecideds as well as some Democrats. And, of course, Senator John McCain has the courage to become part of the administration.

What do you think?

> Russ Volckmann