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Courageous Leadership By Chris Jorgensen

What Does Courage Have to Do with It?

So much of leadership hinges upon courage. Successful leaders routinely display it; struggling leaders find courage challenging to muster, and some, once successful leaders, fail because they succumb to pressure and choose not to exhibit courage.

Nehemiah 2 captures a tremendous example of leadership courage when Nehemiah asks King Artaxerxes for permission to leave and help the Israelites. To set the stage, Nehemiah has heard about the plight of the people in Jerusalem and has just completed time in prayer to discern God’s will for how he should move forward. Nehemiah knows he would need to ask for permission but is afraid. He overcame this fear and exhibited tremendous courage.

Nehemiah’s courageous leadership was very personal: courage that showed his vulnerabilities, transparency about what he cared about, and courage to live out his purpose.

Leaders face situations like this daily that require the same kind of highly personal courage. Personal courage involves vulnerability. It calls for us to expose our weaknesses and face our fears, and it challenges us to lean into uncomfortable situations and conversations.

Nehemiah’s example shows that when we thoughtfully prepare for these moments, personal courage can help us significantly impact what we care deeply about.

Courage is a Choice

Courage is not an innate character trait. Instead, it requires leaders to make an intentional choice in every situation they encounter. Courage lives in the “space between the need for action and the choice to act” [1].

There is a moment when a leader must choose to act in a way that exhibits courage. Courage either shows up or does not show up in this moment of decision.

Many of us routinely face events and circumstances that require courage. When these challenges arise, we typically encounter the challenge and then have some time to discern what to do. We must be aware of the choice to act courageously in these moments.

Courage is Integrity in Action

Perhaps one of the most essential attributes of leadership is integrity.

Integrity is being whole and having complete congruence between a leader’s beliefs, values, and actions. Courage allows leaders to act with integrity and is usually required to make decisions that create the unity that integrity requires.

Nehemiah had a deep passion for helping the Israelites; his passion was his source of integrity. He cared deeply about them, and without asking King Artaxerxes if he could go, he would not have lived with integrity.

Risk, Uncertainty, and Adversity Create Opportunities for Courage

Nehemiah was not a stranger to danger in his role as cupbearer, but he faced a new challenge: taking a risk for what he cared deeply about. He overcame this fear, garnering the courage to ask the king for permission.

Not much about leadership is accessible. Like Nehemiah, we often face risks, ambiguity, and adversity as we endeavor to lead. Be on alert whenever these elements are present because courage is usually necessary. We can act courageously as we lean into decisions and challenging situations.

The Power of Courageous Leadership

Some of the best leaders I have worked with show courage in everything they do. This includes the courage to address their weaknesses, faults, mistakes, and shortcomings. The beauty of a leader’s courage is that others follow the leader’s example. When a leader is courageous, their peers and the people they lead are much more likely to exhibit courage. Because of the trust and safety created, momentum will build that will make a courageous culture.

When leaders go first in exhibiting courage, they can have an exponential impact:

  • A culture of vulnerability and trust is established
  • Conversations are meaningful
  • Critical issues are discussed before they cause significant problems
  • Opportunities are identified and acted upon
  • More voices are heard in decision-making
  • Decisions are more effective
  • Decisions are made quickly yet intentionally.

What type of courageous leadership are you providing to others today?

[1] Benjamin Amos and Richard J Klimoski, “Courage: Making Teamwork Work Well,” Group & Organization Management 39, no 1 (2014): 114,


Chris Jorgensen helps Christian organizations maximize mission impact by creating and sustaining strategic focus through effectiveness assessments, strategic planning, and organization development services. He is the author of The Nehemiah Blueprint, which explores essential leadership attributes to build lasting impact. To learn more, please visit or email Chris at

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