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The Courageous Leader in a Modern Organizational Context

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In each of these cases, the skills needed to be effective as a tactician are assumed to be available to all managers. Specific tools and procedures can be taught that involve communications, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision making. While courage can not be taught –just as wisdom is not readily be acquired—there are ways in which this second type of modern leader can prepare ahead of time for battle. It is not enough for the modern manager to be a courageous warrior. She must also be a cunning warrior—equipped with powerful managerial training.

Identifying and Engaging the Enemy

The key to wholehearted acceptance of and sustained support for a courageous manager operating in a modern setting resides in the identification of an enemy that is both powerful and persistent. Given that the modern enemy resides within the organization, conceptual tools must be available that enable a manager to readily identify the enemy. One such tool is Bruce Tuchman’s stages of group development. This very popular conceptual tool helps a manager identify a specific sequence by which certain challenges associated with groups and teams will emerge. Furthermore, this sequence suggests an appropriate sequence for acquiring and engaging each of the four sets of empowerment tools.

Tuckman’s first stage concerns the challenges associated with forming a group or team and the tools for enhancing communication are particularly appropriate at this stage. Stage Two concerns the movement of a group or team through a storming stage, with the tools associated with conflict-management being most appropriate. At the third stage, a group or team is focused on building the enduring norms by which it operates. The tools associated with problem-solving fit nicely with this stage, for the group or team is typically at this stage determining how it will be “thinking” about the issues it must address and about the ways in which the full capacities of the team can be engaged. Finally, the stage of performing primarily concerns the process of arriving at and implementing decisions. The tools of decision-making are obviously relevant here. Just as battles tend to move through various stages, so do the dynamics of groups and teams (as well as interpersonal relationships) move through predictable stages. The manager of courage should learn about these stages and engage appropriate tools at each stage if she wishes to be effective in engaging the internal enemies in her organization.

The Challenges

The premodern leader of courage builds her credibility typically by looking to an external enemy as the focus for engaging this courage. A modern leader of courage builds her credibility on the foundation of empowerment. This foundation enables the modern manager to move tactics to a position of leadership. She can influence, even if she can’t (and usually doesn’t want to) control. She leads not by pointing outside the organization to find an enemy, but by turning to an even more menacing enemy—the one that exists within her own organization. She is challenged by the nature and power of the internal enemy.

In many ways, an internal enemy is much harder to engage than one that is external. The internal enemy may be constantly shifting, as new factions develop around specific policies or priorities. Furthermore, we usually have to work with the internal enemies rather than defeating them. We must become empathetic as we seek to appreciate the insights offered from alternative perspectives in our organization and as we seek to empower those with whom we work. At this point, the internal enemy is likely to be transformed from a specific person, department or organizational perspective. The enemy is now generalized—it becomes a pervasive ignorance in the organization or to a pervasive sense in the organization of entitlement or passivity or bureaucratic indifference.

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