I am excited that author and leader Shelly Francis is sharing an excerpt from her new book, The Courage Way. At its core, leadership is a daily, ongoing practice and a journey that requires courage. I hope you find inspiration for your own path in the words below. — Bill
Finding Your Voice Leads to Creative Courage
By Shelly L. Francis
The capacity to risk stepping into the unknown is seeded deeply in the rich soil of vocation. Leaders cultivate their capacity to risk by building trust in themselves and in others over time. By embracing the paradoxes of limits and strengths, leaders expand the boundaries of how much they are willing to risk showing up as themselves to grow into the next stage of life and leadership.
“People find innovative responses to impossible situations not because they are well-trained professionals or particularly gifted,” writes John Paul Lederach in his book The Moral Imagination. “Innovative responses arise because this is their context, their place. The essence of the response is not found so much in what they do but in who they are and how they see themselves in relationship with others. They speak with their lives.” Lederach goes on to say that what he calls the “journey toward change” requires vulnerability and a willingness to risk.
A leader named Jonathan cultivated his willingness to look inward honestly and to risk being himself with his staff parallels the mission of his nonprofit organization. He sees the paradox of strength and vulnerability and how it informs courage. “Kids who grow up in South Central LA and neighborhoods like this are streetwise and have evolved in certain ways, but they are undeveloped and naïve in others. Then there are sophisticated, successful people who are making things happen in the world, but they’re fearful and out of touch with their values. Whatever your ecosystem, courage shows up in how you respond to opportunities to go outside of what you know.”
Jonathan recalls taking a group of kids to photograph the neighborhood, walking over a bridge spanning the 110 Freeway. One boy just stood there looking down at the traffic, staring and staring, while the other kids were moving along. Jonathan finally went back and asked him, “What’s going on?”
Still watching the cars speeding by and without looking up, the boy said, “Where are they going?”
Jonathan has never forgotten that moment when that boy’s life called him from the freeway. “It was such a powerful moment of epiphany for him to realize that a whole world existed beyond his own neighborhood and experience.”
Jonathan likes a Rumi couplet that says, “Be afraid, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.” He explained why: “I used to think courage was about being fearless. Now I understand that it’s not about denying my fear—there are a lot of things to dread in the world these days. But we can develop ourselves to be able to choose how we’re going to respond to those feelings.
“That’s huge for everybody, but especially our kids, our staff, and our constituents in this neighborhood. There are so many opportunities to get into trouble, to be drawn into tempting and unhealthy dynamics, and to self-destruct. To recognize that one can feel all kinds of ways and at the end of the day choose how to move rather than become a victim . . . that’s real courage.”
True leadership comes not from the sound of a commanding voice but from the nudging of an inner voice—from our own realization that the time has come to go beyond dreaming to doing.
About Shelly L. Francis
Shelly L. Francis has been the marketing and communications director at the Center for Courage & Renewal since mid-2012. Before coming to the Center, Shelly directed trade marketing and publicity for multi-media publisher Sounds True, Inc. Her career has spanned international program management, web design, corporate communications, trade journals, and software manuals.
The common thread throughout her career has been bringing to light best-kept secrets — technology, services, resources, ideas — while bringing people together to facilitate collective impact and good work. Her latest book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage in personal and professional aspects of life.