The courage to lead

  • Published
  • By Col. John E. Michel
  • 319th Air Refueling Wing commander
There is a tale from the Far East that tells of a mouse who was so terrified of cats he would rarely risk stepping out into the world. Then one day, a local magician agreed to transform the terrified mouse into a cat. This curtailed his fear and the mouse-turned-cat was happy.

That is, until he met a dog.

Terrified of dogs, the mouse-turned-cat rarely risked stepping out into the world. Yet again, the magician agreed to turn him into what he feared most--a dog.

With his latest fear now gone, the mouse-turned-cat-turned-dog was happy.

That is, until he met a lion.

So, once more, the magician agreed to turn the mouse into what he now feared the most, a lion.

Not a week later, the mouse-turned-cat-turned-dog-turned-lion came complaining to the magician that he had met a hunter and was once again afraid. However, this time the magician refused to help him, saying: "I will make you a mouse once again, for though you have the body of a lion, you still have the heart of a mouse."

A different kind of leader

How familiar does this tale sound to you? Who might you know that has built a formidable exterior in order to hide a fearful interior? Have you come across any supposed leaders in your career that found it hard not only to make tough decisions, but had difficulty stepping up and owning those decisions? How many leaders have you known who've had the roar of a lion in public but the heart of a mouse in private?

Sadly, I think all of us have encountered leaders along the way whose fears and insecurities kept them from being the leaders they were capable of becoming; leaders who lacked the courage to match their proverbial "talk" to the reality of their "walk."

Yet, how do you feel when you come across a leader who possesses the courage to let their authentic selves shine through when scrutiny is high and people are insistent on asking why? What do you think when you watch a leader who is undeterred by those asking such questions as: "Why do you want to do this? After all, no one else has ever tried this before." Or perhaps even more familiar, those insistent on asking the age old questions, "Why change now? We've always done it this way.

This is what we know.

This is what's comfortable.

This is what's safe."

But it's different for second-mile leaders.

You see, they've figured out that exercising the courage to do something positive with their lives has little to do with reflecting on why something different or difficult shouldn't be done. Instead, they actively search for answers about the most prudent way to proceed. Why? Because they understand it takes courage to step out of the queue and stretch beyond their immediate reach in pursuit of their dreams.

It takes courage to take the risks necessary to create something uniquely powerful and meaningful in one's life.

It takes courage to find the strength to overcome hardship, stand up to the very real possibility of ridicule and embarrassment, and accept the potential for failure head-on.

So, what about you? What will you do when faced with an opportunity others say is too big, too difficult, or too risky to undertake? Will you possess the courage to forge forward and attempt something you know is right, no matter the cost to self?

Will it be hard?

Will it be worth it?

I think so.

But don't take my word for it. Ask those in your charge what they'd prefer. A leader with the body of a lion and the heart of a mouse or a leader with the courage to give their very best when anything less just won't do.

Not because they have to, but because they choose to.

Simply because that's what Second-Mile Leaders do.