Courage: Leaders of Character Are Not Quiet

“What leadership book have you ever read that states, ‘A leader does what is right unless it will cost him personally.’”  There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.  It was not the empathetic answer Stan was looking for.  The question: “What can I do?  She’s my boss.”

Leaders of Character Are Not Quiet

The Background:

Stan was a young man I had mentored earlier in his career who was now up for a promotion.  I hadn’t heard from him for a while, but he called me for advice in dealing with his new boss.

She was a good woman, who tended to run over the top of others with her ideas.  She was tough, opinionated and successful.

However, her team was about to revolt.  Stan was the leader of his peers.  They respected him.  His peers saw his potential for leading just like I did.

The Situation:

The team felt beaten down.  They would describe it as an abusive situation.  A group of tenured people was about to draft an anonymous letter to the VP of Sales threatening to quit as a group unless this woman was fired.

Stan told me he couldn’t wait to get off the team.  His goal was to have a team of his own and lead in a different way.

The Conversation:

Dave:  Does she know people feel this way?

Stan:  I am not sure.  I don’t think she cares.

Dave:  No one has spoken with her about the effects her sarcasm and biting comments have on the morale of the team?

Stan:  No.

Dave:  What about you?  How do you see her as a leader?

Stan:  She’s a good person overall.  She is just not good at communicating with the team.  It is a beat down every time something doesn’t go perfectly.

Dave:  So you want to have your own team and lead better than she does.  Do you consider yourself a leader now?

Stan:  Yes.

Dave:  Then tell me this.  What are you going to do about it?

Stan:   What can I do?  She’s my boss.

Dave:  What leadership book have you ever read that states, “A leader does what is right unless it will cost him personally?”  Stan, a leader does what is right.  Period.

It may be painful, and it may have some consequences to you personally, but leaders lead.  Leaders are not quiet.

Your team came to you because they trust you and believe you will take action.  Are you going to validate their trust?

The Results:

Stan decided he would ask for a private meeting with his boss.  During that meeting, he came prepared with specific situations where her comments and attitude had damaged her position as the leader of the team.

She listened, vented and listened some more.  Stan held his ground during her venting, and insisted he was trying to help the team and her by shining a light on the situation.

In the end, she hugged Stan and thanked him for stepping forward to help her see herself better.  She began to change and the team came to respect her.

Stan earned a promotion soon after confronting her.  Stan led his boss and his team because as a leader of character, he did not remain quiet.

3 Things To Learn From Stan:

  • Leaders of character lead no matter what their position or situation.
  • Leaders of character do what is right for others before taking care of themselves.
  • Leaders of character need other leaders of character to have the courage to tell them the truth.

The Bottom Line:

Leaders of character are not quiet.  If I only lead when it will benefit me personally, I am not leading others. I am marketing myself.

Leaders of character show courage, no matter their position in the organization.

Leaders of character speak out and take action on what they know is right, no matter the personal risk.  They have the courage to act.


When have you seen someone have the courage to speak out for what is right at work?  How did that impact their reputation within the organization?

7 Responses to “Courage: Leaders of Character Are Not Quiet”

  1. Edward Dolan February 23, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    I have seen it work, and I have seen it backfire. I don’t think there is any science to knowing which outcome it will have. That’s the truly risky nature of this. That’s why it is called “courage.”
    I’ve seen bosses straighten their spines, reel back, but then recognize the value of the feedback and be openly thankful for that. Sometimes that has carried through over time with real respect for the “whistleblower.” Sometimes the initial gratitude became resentment over time.
    I’ve seen it taken as offensive and wrong, and then used for years as an example of the “whistleblower” not “getting it,” being a poor team player, etc.
    It’s risky. A choice needs to be made in each situation.

    • Michelle Nash February 23, 2013 at 3:10 pm #


      I understand your points above. However, I think the point Dave is making is that you shouldn’t be concerned about the risk. What matters is doing what’s right. As a leader, I appreciate any feedback that my teammates provide as long as it is done with sincerity and authenticity. Any TRUE leader will.

      • Dave Anderson February 23, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

        Well said Michelle. If a leader is offended by honest feedback meant to make the leader better, then that person is dealing with a character issue.

  2. David M. Snyder April 25, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    When I have been confronted with this dilemma, I think back to the Cadet Prayer, which more than anything has guided my life. It urges us “in our endeavors to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.”

    In my 40+ years as a Senior Healthcare Executive, behaving in this manner has cost me dearly at times, but I continue to live up to the lessons learned of the Cadet Prayer and I do not look back.

    • Dave Anderson April 27, 2013 at 9:45 am #

      I use the Cadet Prayer to discuss Organizational Character and how USMA reinforces the most important principles in multiple areas, from multiple angles, in order to make those principles stick with young cadets.

  3. Gretchen Prichard May 31, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    I have a copy of the Cadet Prayer in my office, to remind me of my objectives – and obligations – as a leader.

    • Dave Anderson June 2, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      It is a great reminder. I use portions of it in my talks about character and how we must all think about integrity.

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