Sometimes leadership requires making hard decisions and choosing a path that goes against the norm. Leadership takes courage. It has been said that the lack of courage, in management and in life, is perhaps the most critical factor in determining whether you will  succeed or fail as a leader. Organizations today need leaders who are unencumbered by fear. They need courageous leaders who can guide them through troubled times and help them turn around in spite of the challenges.

In today’s economic climate, there are masses of people seeking a turnaround. Lives have been ruined by financial circumstances that have created challenges that many struggle to overcome. Layoffs, downsizing, mortgage foreclosures, declining 401K plans, among others, have all contributed to a general malaise in the workplace and in the personal lives of many. Many managers are afraid to add to the emotional burdens of a workforce that is already seeing unprecedented hardship. They may even be experiencing many of the same difficulties themselves. As a result, the courage to pursue a turnaround, both personally and organizationally, is declining. Quite simply, many people are afraid of what the future might bring.

Unfortunately fear can be paralyzing. It can hold you back and keep you from realizing your optimum potential. The fear of change, of loss, of being wrong, or of being embarrassed, are examples of emotional barriers that can rob you of opportunities for happiness and success. These emotional barriers often get in the way of opportunities for positive change. Your ability to move through these barriers and to muster the courage to move beyond your fears is the hallmark of an effective leader.

Courage isn’t something that just happens. Courage is a lot like a muscle. To have strong courage through your leadership challenges, you must develop the attitude, skill and ability to use it.

Here are five attitudes that can help you develop your courage muscle:

  1. Know yourself. It’s difficult to have courage when you’re unclear of your guiding values and principles. What do you stand for? Being attuned to who you are is like the foundation of a house. It holds you firm when the demands of leadership challenge you.
  2. Do what’s right, not what feels good. Often, courage means making uncomfortable choices. A difficult decision won’t always feel good in the moment, but if you’re connected with your principles then you’ll know the right course of action. Always remember to maintain an ethical posture in these moments.
  3. Be flexible and open to change. If you find yourself saying, “But, we’ve always done it this way,” then you may really be responding to fear of change. Fear is the opposite of courage. Have the courage to corrupt the norm if it means a better outcome.
  4. Accept criticism. Naysayers abound, especially when faced with a leadership challenge. Listen to the critics; they may have a valid perspective on the situation. But always return to what’s right, both from an ethics and principles standpoint, and then choose.
  5. Be willing to admit mistakes. There may have been times when you courageously made what you thought was the best decision, only to find later that you were dead wrong. You’re human. Mistakes are part of the territory. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. Those wrong turns are learning opportunities to be savored! Embrace them and choose to do differently next time.

Fear and uncertainty make it difficult for some to see beyond their immediate circumstances. When you walk into the grocery store, do you see more grumbling faces than smiles? On the way to work, do you notice the white-knuckle grip of commuters so wound up in stress that they use their vehicles to exert power, even if it’s just to be first at a stop light ? They want to at least be ahead of someone.

Maybe you understand how they feel. You’ve probably lived through up times and down times yourself. Even so, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to lead your organization to success in spite of the difficulties that many employees may be experiencing personally. You can do this efficiently and effectively without losing appreciation for individual circumstances. It’s simply a byproduct of your attitude.

Instead of seeing the lack in a situation, seek out the opportunities. Rather than dwell on what’s wrong, affirm what is right. Recognize that success is about what you can achieve collectively. These are the perspectives that can help you through even the most challenging times.

When you’re neck deep in a difficult situation, it’s hard to quell your negative desires and thoughts. It may take years of conscious effort and “mind training” to choose differently. Sometimes you will fail. But most times, you will succeed in maintaining an attitude that makes a situation better, not worse.

You can create your own attitude for success. It takes practice and consistent effort, but it’s definitely possible and it starts with something very simple: Change what you feed your mind.

When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you feed your mind? Is it the morning news? Is it the worry of what the day will bring? Most people start their day with dreadful news, whether it comes from the media or internal thoughts. Choose differently.

Tomorrow when you wake up try this:

  • Think of 5 things you appreciate and quietly say, “Thank you for…” Starting with a perspective of gratitude for what you already have (even though it may not be perfect) trains your mind to see the good in your life.
  • Next, think of your #1 goal and decide on 2-3 actions – big or small – you’ll take to move you forward on that goal.
  • Finally, spend 20 minutes reading something inspirational or motivating. Avoid the morning news or tabloid papers. Find a book, blog, or other resource that is positive and instructional.

Success and happiness are choices based on your attitude. A positive attitude frees the mind to be creative and to seek out and realize new opportunities. When life is spinning out of control, your attitude is the one thing you can control. So be courageous, take the reins and go after the results you desire! By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful turnaround.

About the Author:
Danita Johnson Hughes, Ph.D. is a healthcare industry executive, public speaker and author of the forthcoming “Turnaround.” Through her work she inspires people to dream big and understand the role of personal responsibility in personal and professional success.

In her first book, “Power from Within,” Danita shares her “Power Principles for Success” that helped her overcome meager beginnings and achieve professional, community and personal success. For more information visit, or writer her at