Courage to take the first step
“Put 'em up, put 'em up! Which one of you first? I'll fight you both together if you want. I'll fight you with one paw tied behind my back.” If you have ever watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’, these are the infamous words that the cowardly lion says as he leaps from the woods to scare Dorothy, Tin man and Scarecrow (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMBil4FkLKc). Rich with bravado, they don’t sound like the words of a coward, but one slap on the paw from Dorothy as the lion chases her little dog Toto, soon reveals a snivelling, cowardly lion. It is then that the lion takes his true first bold step of courage. He admits that he doesn’t have courage. He steps into vulnerability and admits that he needs help.
When you know how to walk, you may think taking a first step is an everyday occurrence. But yet, once it was a huge thing for us. We had moved by crawling. Whether on our knees or whether shuffling on our bottom. One day, having pulled ourselves up, we turned from holding onto the arm of the sofa and took a step, a step in the direction that we wanted to go. We were so used to crawling, this ‘stepping’ lark was new and unusual and a risk. What if we fell? As a toddler, we were driven by ‘curiosity’ and ‘explore’ and so this step had risk, but it also offered adventure and a potential better way of travelling. It had learning and growth. But in order to gain all that was on offer, it required vulnerability and the attitude of curiosity.
There are two types of first step that we need to have courage in and understand as leaders - a) The first step of courage and b) the courage to take the first step.
The first step of courage
The first step of courage was demonstrated beautifully by the cowardly lion. It is to step into vulnerability. It is the vulnerability of admitting that we need help, that we don’t know it all and can’t do it all by ourselves. It is saying to your leadership team, “I’m not sure what to do.” It is saying, “I need help.” It is saying, “I’ve not been here before and so I would like to press pause and I would like to seek advice.” It is about understanding that this might not work, but I am going to explore and be curious in this situation and see what we can learn from it. Brene Brown explains that to be courageous, you have to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable you have to be courageous. There is a strange dance between the two. She says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” To be a great leader, we need to understand this key first step. Courage is not about being macho, it is about building trust with those we work with, to model vulnerability and honesty as a leader. All the while we think that leaders have to know all the answers, we put ourselves in a dangerous position. We risk not learning new things. We risk not achieving greater success as we harness others’ ideas and skills. We risk our mental health as we frantically work to protect an unattainable image of ourselves. And worse of all, we risk becoming a narcissist with a fragile self-esteem doing all we can to avoid vulnerability. But the beauty of vulnerability, is that it can be infectious. When we as leaders take the first step, show our vulnerability we create a vulnerability loop. It creates safety and trust, letting people know that if you as the leader can be vulnerable, then it is safe for me to be too. We then create a culture of open, honest reflection and a climate of support and collaboration. All from one simple first step – the courage to be vulnerable.
Courage to take the first step
As leaders, we often recognise when things need to change, grow or develop and so we come up with a plan to get there. And then we look at the enormity of the change required and it can seem daunting. It is in this moment that we need to have courage, courage to take the first step. “Every journey begins with the first step.” Of course, it does.
It’s such an obvious statement and makes a great meme or poster. Often when we look at a long journey or an improvement that we want to make, it can seem huge and daunting. But the trick is to break it down into simple, manageable steps. Couch to 5k, the running app to help people start running, does this beautifully. Rather than expecting someone to run 5k straight away, the first step is to run for 30 seconds and then walk for 3 minutes. Each week there is a gradual increase until by week 9 you are running for 30 minutes and nearing your 5k run.
Often, we can look at situations like this diagram
(See diagram 1). We are comfortable in our comfort zone, it's safe. The big project, the end goal, looks like a scary zone. It feels unattainable.
But the trick is to take a little first step. To step into the area a tiny bit outside of our comfort zone; ‘The Golden Zone’. (See diagram 2). Scary Zone For example, if you find it hard to talk to people in large gatherings, maybe the first 10% step is to go with someone you know, not plan to talk, but just to listen.
What happens when we step into the 10% Golden Zone, is that the more we take that simple first step, the more our comfort zone stretches and the initial golden zone becomes part of our comfort zone. Now you are used to attending a meeting with someone, maybe the next golden zone moment is to ask someone you do know a question in the meeting.
How do you complete a journey? One step at a time. How do you do scary things? One step at a time. How do you start that journey? Take the first step. Before you know it, taking one step at a time you reach your destination.
What do you want to achieve? What is your first step going to be?
Everyday Leader is here to inspire and equip you. If you would like to be empowered to plan and take your first step, you may benefit from coaching with us. Do let us know if we can be of help to you. firstname.lastname@example.org