On Learning to be Courageous

    On Learning to be Courageous

    By Dr. David Anthony

    Many people affiliated with education espouse the value of having courageous leaders at the district and campus level. What is courageous leadership? Is it an attitude or philosophy? Is courageous leadership an innate trait or can one be taught to be a courageous leader?

    Dr. Bob Fortenberry, former superintendent in Jackson, MS, stated, “There is nothing so immoral, and possibly illegal, as supporting an adult at the expense of a child.” I heard his speech in 1980 and never forgot his passion. He went on to explain that he was hired as superintendent to improve the educational outcomes for all students, not to guarantee employment for adults or adhere to community beliefs about the abilities of some students. Under his leadership, the district blossomed, but he was constantly challenged for his beliefs in students who were mostly poor and minority. Bob Fortenberry was a role model for taking a strong position for students, even though it placed his job in peril.

    As a 27-year-old principal with two years of experience, I vowed to always place the welfare of students above that of adults, including myself. In order to honor my vow, I had to clearly establish, in writing, my system of beliefs and values. Reading what I had written over and over again to be sure my decision was not reckless or pure folly helped me to develop the “non-negotiables” that would serve as the basis of my decision-making, as well as my responses in job interviews.

    No, I was not born to be a courageous leader; I developed the mindset and the belief, based on what I believed and the attributes I respected in great leaders. Becoming a courageous leader takes time and many experiences, some positive and others not. The journey is worth it. Courageous leaders help make others, adults and children, better through consistent actions based on beliefs and values, and being known for someone who is predictable in dealing with issues regardless of those involved.

    “Becoming a courageous leader takes time and many experiences, some positive and others not.”
    Dr. David Anthony
    CEO, Raise Your Hand Texas

    7 Marks of a Courageous Leader

    (as offered by Dr. David Anthony)

    • A courageous leader will answer three questions when considering taking on a new role: (1) Does the job provide an opportunity to learn and become more effective? (2) Does the job provide a great opportunity to succeed? (3) Does the job provide a great opportunity to fail? Courageous leaders hold themselves to a higher standard and expect accountability for themselves first and others second.
    • Courageous leaders are adept at having difficult conversations with staff members because they believe failure to address a need for growth robs a person of an opportunity to improve. Courageous leaders expect everyone, especially themselves, to grow and improve in their roles everyday.
    • Courageous leaders view a mistake or failure as both a temporary condition and a learning experience.
    • Courageous leaders make decisions based on the best interest of the students, using data and clearly established goals and objectives.
    • Courageous leaders are not reckless, unwilling to take a stand, or interested in decisions that garner the spotlight.
    • Leaders who think they are always right are not courageous leaders; they are selfish, arrogant, and probably not leaders.
    • Courageous leaders give credit to others for success and accept the responsibility for failures.