Courage - The Thing That Impact Studies Don't Measure

As our team gets ready to travel Washington to speak at this years Power Shift Forum on the subject of Women and Leadership, I cant help but focus on the missing leadership word - Courage.

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(Sienna here completing Leadership for Hope, in Nairobi, Kenya)

Winston Churchill said that courage is the foremost of all the leadership virtues. Courage sits under everything else a leader does. Without courage no dimension of leadership, whether it be mindsets, attitudes or skills, will happen; without it people cannot sustain their actions under difficult circumstances. What is interesting in bringing leadership development to the grassroots of the worlds most vulnerable communities is that the words we hear from donors are "Numbers"; "Statistics"; "Data". (There is a kind of important but fragile peace between an NGO and these words.)

But no donor ever asks you to measure Courage.

"How many people did you put courage into this week?"; (en = put into; encourage = put courage into someone)

"What actions did this courage propel them to take that they wouldn't have taken previously?"

At the core of the leadership that we teach in the most vulnerable of communities is a heart - leadership exists for the benefit of others. Understanding the heart of leadership is the only antidote to the opposite of what we see everywhere - power and self interest.

But heart is not only about where your leadership is focused - on others - it's about bringing all of yourself to the task of changing your life and the world around you. Whole-heartedness, bringing all of my personal resources, - resources I didn't even know I had within myself - is essential to get your child to school when you can't afford to, get a toilet dug when you don't have the strength, fetch clean water from miles away, say 'no' to the gang or the drugs or the 'sugar daddy'. The Latin and French word for heart is Cor and Coeur, from which we get our word courage. Courage is about heart. Any leadership development that isn't awakening courage isn't equipping us.

Emerging Leaders is in the business of developing leaders out of everyone in the most vulnerable communities, but the one thing that sits under all we teach is courage. During our Leadership for Life training we take people on a journey that wakes them up to their leadership potential and equips them to write a good story for their own life - but courage is at the heart, courage is what gets us into the fight and courage is what keeps us there.

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(Susan's new school from the outside)

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(Susan (centre) showing Emerging Leaders Colin Tapscott the new school)

When Sienna (See photo above), left our training she decided to invest the tiny amount of money she did have in buying some chickens to rear, to generate more income. All the chickens died. She tried again. They all died again, but she didn't give up. She found a vet and sought advice and made some changes and now is part of a project that saves her new found income into a savings circle that ensures that she can do many more things in her life and community than before. Courage got her onto the pitch and courage kept her there.

Susan left one of our trainings and decided she was going to start a school in her very deprived community. What hope has one woman got to start a real school, with real buildings, real teachers and real pupils, while still holding down a demanding full time job? Well, she has just opened her school. What was the x factor? Courage in the face of much internal and external adversity.

Mitch hadn't spoken to his brother for ten years as he sat in the training. His own children had never even met his brothers children. He realised he needed to write a different story. So at the end of the first day of training he phoned his estranged brother. His brother didn't answer. He tried again. No answer. Again. No answer. A text that begged to chat. No answer. After numerous attempts Mitch's brother picked up the phone and they agreed to meet. By the weekend both families were gathered at a reconciliation BBQ where the children all played together like they had always known each other. What made that happen? Courage.

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(A moment of fun at Leadership for Hope at Fairview valley, South Africa)

Peter had never finished school and was heading for an early grave like so many youth in his slum. He came to the training and learned what it meant to lead his life and lead his friends and take a lead in the numerous issues in his community. Little education, no resources, a culture of violence and desperation were his daily food, but he decided on a different path. He has now led 9 projects benefiting the community. He and his friend Stephen now bring leadership training to the youths of the slum. Peter has recently opened the slums first library for young children to come and do homework each evening. How do you fight against the tide of a story that is being handed down to you from your parents, from the community, from the gangs, from the ....whoever? Courage.

I'm thinking donors need a new column on their application sheets.