Literature Review - Courage in Leadership Diagnostic Model
Courage and Leadership: What does it
take to be “King of the Forest?”
Sherri Orwick Ogden
April 15, 2009
Am I a good leader? Am I REALLY a good leader? I can manage a project or two and organize a team to
complete assigned tasks on schedule. But…do I have the qualities of a truly effective leader? Many
people ask that of themselves – wavering back and forth from feeling strong about their leadership
qualities to second guessing their decisions – often dependent on the most recent management event in
their life. What is at the heart of a great leader?
This literature review began with this research question and has evolved to explore courage and its role
in effective, participatory leadership. A hypothesis is given along with an exploration of the definition of
courage, qualities of leadership, and finally discusses how courage is an essential component of
An effective, participatory leader must have courage.
Independent Variable: Courage
What does it mean to have courage? Immediately a vision from Wizard of Oz comes to mind – with the
cowardly lion and his fearful but loving heart. But what behaviors did the lion exhibit that made his
fellow adventurers perceive him as cowardly? Was it because he wouldn’t face the Wizard of Oz or
became “spooked” at the snap of a twig? What characteristics did he possess that caused him to lack
The CTO of InfoWorld Chad Dickerson wrote of a booklet by Ivan Sutherland (vice president of Sun) in
which Sutherland speaks of courage and what it means to him and information technology:
“Courage is what it takes to overcome fear. Fear is an emotion appropriate to perceived
risk. Thus to exhibit courage one must both perceive a risk and proceed in spite of it.
Suppose a child has fallen through the ice on a lake and could be saved if reached. A
person who walks out on the ice believing it to be very thick requires no courage because
he perceives no risk, even though others may think him courageous. A person who
correctly perceives that the ice is thin and stays off it likewise exhibits no courage; rather
we call his action prudent or cowardly, depending on whether or not the ice is, in fact,
too thin for safety. Courage is required only of a person who proceeds to rescue the
child in full knowledge that the ice is thin.” (Dickerson, 2004)
Was the cowardly lion’s perceived risk in the Wizard of Oz justifiable? He had no idea it was a
small, ordinary man behind a curtain. Was the lion just being prudent?
Others have ideas on the definition of courage. In U.S. News and World Report, Senator John McCain
gave his definition of courage as “… a rare moment of unity between conscious fear and action. It
happens when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty. I don't believe you
can have true courage without fear because part of courage is overcoming fear. Those with courage love
something more than their own welfare” (Brink, 2004). In addition, according to Winston Churchill
courage is the “first of the human qualities” and Aristotle referred to courage as the first virtue.
So maybe the lion was truly a coward until he was willing to face what he was fearful of?
Studies have been done to determine what people perceive as courage. In the journal article Implicit
Theories of Courage, the authors study how courage is percieved through various lenses. Their study
uncovered 29 descriptions or definitions of courage (Christopher, Clarke, Lindsay, & Sternberg, 2007).
Though the study identified various types of courage, there was no concensus on one definition.
Instead, their studies suggest that maybe courage isn’t a personality trait – but more the couragous
behaviors people exhibit:
“Courage may be better understood as an exceptional response to specific external
conditions or circumstances than as an attribute, disposition, or character trait
(generally acknowledged as long-term and stable across situations) which appears to be
the intent of many definitions and descriptions of courage Perhaps researchers are on
firmer ground when they label someone as ‘‘courageous’’ based on their actions in a
given situation.” (Christopher, Clarke, Lindsay, & Sternberg, 2007)
Ultimately, the lion was given his badge of courage which enabled him to act courageously. Did
the lion now have courage or did he just begin to behave that way? John McCain’s definition
implies courage is not something you consciously decide to be, but a reaction when a
combination of love, honor and duty are summoned from within. When the lion was given a
badge of courage by a person he deemed superior to himself, he believed he had courage. But
as the wizard explained, it was something he had inside himself all along – and the badge just
gave him the knowledge it was there. So, could it be that courage is a perspective – a way of
viewing life and one’s self– that allows a person to be a certain way? Could courage simply be a
conscious or unconscious decision to behave courageously?
Dependent Variable: Effective Participatory Leadership
Much has been written on the topic of leadership. Green (2008) refers to Max Weber’s idea of
charismatic leaders and reports that “charisma is useless if there is an absence of value-based element.”
He continues to say that effective leadership requires the usual “confidence, decisivness, and the ability
to interact with their followers.” He mentions the typical characteristics: poised, perserverant,
optimistic, cares about the organization, gives credit when due, and humble. These are characteristics
usually mentioned when referring to the traditional, positioned leader.
Leadership theories have “…progressed from being based on the individual, to dyad of manager and
subordinate, to the group, and finally to the organization” (Benson, 2008). More organizations are
viewing leadership as a team role rather than a mechanistic dictatorship (Morgan, 2006). Fetzer (2005)
explains how “leadership in a scientific team should be a role that helps the whole team operate at its
optimum level. This is best done by letting every member contribute in her or his best fashion.”
In a leadership study of women and nurse executives (Carroll, 2005) six factors of effective leadership
were identified: 1) personal integrity, 2) strategic vision/action orientation, 3) team
building/communication, 4) management and technical competence, 5) people skills and 6) personal
Another study of police servicemen emphasizes self-awareness and identifies three qualities of a
“conscious leader” (Martyn & Scurr, 2007): 1) ability to gain insight into followers’ minds, 2) present
your “leaderself” as opposed to your “naturalself, “ 3) be self-aware.
According to Leader to Leader magazine, authors Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman, in
accordance with the theory “leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do, “ have published the
book The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By. The book represents a majority of the fundamentals
required of an effective leader (Searching for the Core of Leadership, 2009). The five rules outlined in
the book are 1) shape the future (mission/vision/strategies), 2) make things happen, 3) engage today’s
talent, 4) build the next generation, and 5) invest in yourself.
Eddy and VanDerLinden (2006) studied how community college leaders view their own leadership styles
– either based on the traditional “hero” leader or the more emerging ideas of participatory leadership.
“The literature suggests that alternative leadership styles are replacing the traditionally
held definitions of leadership and provide new and different (and possibly superior) ways
to understand leadership. According to Davis (2003), leadership has been recognized as
an activity that can "bubble up" in various places within institutions and no longer is only
focused on formal leadership roles.” (Eddy & VanDerLinden, 2006)
Boomgaarden (2008) conveys his own experience in cultivating leadership skills in an academic
environment. He claims effective leadership “demands frequent self-examination and a keen interest in
maintaining good relationships…”. He offers five rules for leaders in academia: 1) everyone is
important, 2) be on a mission, 3) stop, look and listen, 4) it’s not about you, and 5) be courageous.
Courage and Leadership
Baldoni (2009) states it takes courage to look inward and hold yourself accountable for your behaviors.
While maybe not seen as courageous as physical acts by some, Baldoni states thirteen practices in
courage that are essential to effective leadership: 1) Keep your eyes open, 2) Act for integrity, 3) Hold
to your principles, 4) Stand up for differences, 5) Know what you know and what you don’t know, 6) Pick
the right moment, 7) Do not blink, 8) Give a little, 9) Hold the right people accountable, 10) Insist on
actions, not words, 12) Put people in tough situations, and 13) Promote leadership ability.
Treasurer (2009) asserts that without courage, leadership and other business practices “wither” but
“courage itself can stand alone.” He claims courage “enables leaders to face troubling times, suffer
through hardships, and withstand the scrutiny and second-guessing that followers often subject them
to.” “Courage gives leadership its backbone.” Yet, just as McCain and Dickerson believe you cannot
have courage without fear, Treasurer points out that courage itself is fearful in nature. He quotes Sara
Blakely, the founder of SPANX, a premier women’s apparel company, by saying “in every situation where
I was ever courageous, you could just as easily substitute the word afraid for courageous.” Treasurer
continues to say that “like leadership, courage matters most when it is focused on bettering the lives of
others.” Leaders should encourage their followers to face what they fear.
Finally, Welch & Welch (2009) offer ways for motivated, effective leaders to sustain their courage: 1)
maintain confidence – do not doubt yourself, 2) stay focused on your mission, 3) stay connected with
your followers, 4) view challenges as puzzles not problems, and 5) reach out for support
It is interesting that the literature on courageous leadership appears to focus on integrity, self-
examination and connection with followers. It was compelling to see how the various qualities
mentioned in the literature on leadership and the literature on courage compared with each other.
When listing all of the characteristics used to describe both leadership and literature, it appeared they
could be categorized into four areas: 1) connection with followers, 2) focus on mission, 3) personal
attributes, and 4) sense of community. The following chart reflects the categories, the qualities in each
category, and the literature in which they were found: leadership, courage, or articles on both.
Leadership Courage Leadership and Courage
Connect with Followers
lead by example/know fear Engagement
Create beneficial relationships
Awareness and Understanding of
Stay Focused - Mission, Goals, Strategies
Invest in self Timing and Priorities Passion
High Expectations and
Accountability Growth and Development
Purpose and Plan Execute
Personal Qualities - Self Awareness
Sense of Humor seek support Integrity
Create a Sense of Community
Stability Stand up for Differences Not about you
It is important to note the number of qualities in the Courage and Leadership/Courage columns as
opposed to just the Leadership column. The literature appears to suggest that many qualities used to
describe good leaders also describe courageous leaders.
Boomgaarden (2008) lists his fifth essential leadership quality as “be courageous.” He explains with the
“Cynics would say that courage is a quality you don't find often among middle managers, but I
think it's essential. It is easy to become anxious and afraid, particularly since we do not have
control over all aspects of a situation. We often must lead others over whom we actually have no
real authority and who are skeptical about the worth of the ultimate task at hand. Sometimes the
obstacles seem insurmountable.
But timidity, fear, and anxiety undermine what little authority we do have. When those moments
arrive (and sometimes they arrive regularly), middle managers must realize that others are
looking to us to be the calm in the storm. We have the courage within us, but we must remind
ourselves in times of stress that it is there, waiting to be used if only we would summon it. Forget
you have it, and you are lost.” (Boomgaarden, 2008)
Is it possible that to behave courageously, courage has to be summoned from within – and that
effective, participatory leaders have the ability to recognize what courage really is?
Leadership and courage can be characterized by behaviors and not necessarily personality traits. And,
as the literature suggests, courageous behaviors can “bubble up” (Davis 2003) or occur at “any given
time” (Christopher, Clarke, Lindsay, & Sternberg 2007).
Consequently, is it possible the lion in the Wizard of Oz was courageous even before he received his
badge of courage? Could it be the support, opportunity, and confidence he received enabled him to
recognize his courage and summon it to become the “king of the forest?”
Difficulty defining courage was not expected. This review has unveiled that additional research on the
meaning of courage and the integral part it plays in participatory leadership is not only warranted but
Baldoni, J. (2009). The Courage of Self-Examination. Leader to Leader , 12-16.
Benson, J. D. (2008). Leadership & Motivation. EBSO Publishing Inc.
Boomgaarden, D. (2008, November 28). Managing From the Middle. Chronical of Higher Education , pp.
Brink, S. (2004, May 10). ENCOURAGING COURAGE. U.S. News & World Report , p. 18.
Carroll, T. (2005, April). Leadership Skills and Atributes of Women and Nurse Executives. Nursing
Administration Quarterly , pp. 146-153.
Christopher, R. R., Clarke, J. A., Lindsay, D. R., & Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Implicit Theories of Courage. The
Journal of Positive Psychology , 80-98.
Davis, J. (2003). Learning to lead. Westport, CT: American Council on Education/Praeger .
Dickerson, C. (2004, January 5). Making Courageous IT Choices. InfoWorld , p. 21.
Eddy, P., & VanDerLinden, K. (2006). Emerging Definitions of Leadership in Highter Education.
Community College Review , 5-26.
Fetzer, J. (2005). Leadership. Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry , 1311-1312.
Green, J. (2008, March). Leadership Spotlight. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin , 13.
Martyn, H., & Scurr, R. (2007, October). Do You Fill Your Leadership Space? A cognitive model of
leadership development for the police service. International Journal of Leadership in Public
Services , 29-41.
Morgan, G. (2006). Images of an Organization. Thousand Oaksa: Sage Publications, Inc.
Searching for the Core of Leadership. (2009, Spring). Leader to Leader , p. 57.
Treasurer, B. (2009, Spring). Courageous leadership: Modeling the way. Leader to Leader , pp. 13-17.
Welch, J., & Welch, S. (2009, February 23). Finding Your Inner Courage. BusinessWeek .